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Public outcry ensued when anti-homeless studs were identified outside a block of flats in Southwark, a Tesco on Regent Street and a Halifax Building Society in Swansea, in early June.
Andrew Horton’s Facebook picture of the Southwark studs (19 blunt spikes, 1.5 inches high) and subsequent Twitter posts prompted a global reaction and over 100,000 re-tweets. Writing in his blog, he said: “I don’t want this to be seen as ‘socially unacceptable’. I’d like it to be ‘legally unacceptable’ as well.”
Sally Hitchiner, a well-known Anglican priest/head of department of a large multi-faith chaplaincy at Brunel University, then entered the debate on Twitter, posting the pic and tweeting: “Anti-homeless people studs outside 118 Southwark Bridge Road, London. Such a negative message!”
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also joined the furore, tweeting several days later: “Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleepers are ugly, self-defeating and stupid. Developers should remove them ASAP.”
Protestors poured concrete over the Tesco’s studs and campaign group Left Unity staged a protest at the site. Bianca Todd, their principal speaker, told the Pavement: “It’s absolutely horrific to see such spikes and all it’s doing is trying to push the homeless under the carpet.
"Whilst we are pleased that Tesco removed the spikes, we want a commitment from them that they won’t reappear in other parts of the country.”
Happily, by mid-June the studs had been removed from all three sites.
Bianca identified the arms incorporated into benches that are also designed to stop rough sleeping, jet washing and other noise pollution as examples of more subtle ways of moving homeless people on. Harriet Wells, who put down a petition to ‘Remove the Anti-Homeless Spikes’ at Change.org (which attracted over 132,000 signatures), said: “I am overwhelmed at the outpouring of compassion and humanity in supporting the removal of the spikes and getting the City, the UK and the world talking about the issue of homelessness. "The spikes were simply a symbol for the way homeless people are often treated.
"They have started an important discussion that has been a long time coming and one that we need to keep having.”
The City of London Corporation is planning to use benches designed to deter rough sleepers as part of its official plans to improve the city streets.
The plans are outlined in its ‘City Street Scene Manual’, described as "a guide to the management and improvement of the City's streets". It acts as a reference document for architects, developers and London Corporation planners.
Yet despite aspirations set out by the guide to make the street ‘accessible for all’, its section on benches says: “Timber benches should preferably be constructed from oak, with intermediate arms to assist people with disabilities and discourage rough sleepers."
A spokeswoman for the Corporation said that despite the concern over the spikes removed outside several city locations after they were deemed by the mayor, Boris Johnson, to be ‘ugly, self-defeating and stupid’, she knew of no plans to revisit the guide, which dates from earlier this year.
“We’re really committed to reducing the number of homeless people forced to sleep rough, and we work very closely with the charity Broadway,” she added.
Broadway, which merged with St Mungo's to form St Mungo's Broadway in May, confirmed that it works with local authorities to "make the physical environment uncomfortable for people to sleep rough", an approach that it views as ‘legitimate’ because they also work to support people to find alternatives.
In reaction to the spikes in the doorway of the Southwark housing development, Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo's Broadway, said: "Each year our teams, in Southwark and elsewhere, help thousands of people off the streets.
"Part of their role is to prevent people adopting a street lifestyle which, on occasion, means adapting the physical environment to prevent people sleeping rough in a particular location on a regular basis.
"These studs appear a rather brutal way of doing just that.”
However, with statistics published at the end of last month showing that rough sleeping is still on the rise, others called for the approach taken in the guide to be reconsidered. Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, said: "No one should have to sleep on the streets in 21st century Britain.
"Yet over the last three years, rough sleeping has risen steeply across the country and by a massive 75 per cent in London.
"Behind these numbers are real people struggling with a lack of housing, cuts to benefits and cuts to homelessness services to help them rebuild their lives.
"They might have suffered a relationship breakdown, a bereavement or domestic abuse. They deserve better than to be forced from one place to another in search of a doorway or a bench.
"Turning our streets into hostile places for rough sleepers is not the answer. Instead we must deal with the causes." Karin Goodwin
If you are sleeping rough and want to find an alternative, you can contact Streetlink or call 0300 500 0914.
For charities and voluntary organisations which can help, see our List (insert or www. thepavement.org.uk)