“Homeless Spikes” In London Spark Twitterstorm

They may look hideous, but is there a more complex issue behind them?

1. Over the weekend, this image, first posted on Facebook, has been going viral on Twitter.

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The spikes are located outside a residential building in Southwark and were apparently put up a few weeks ago. There’s a nearby homeless shelter, but there doesn’t appear to have been a particular problem with people sleeping in this doorway, according to residents.

6. Harriet Wells, who set up the petition, writes:


As a society we should be looking after our vulnerable population not ostracizing them by moving them to places that ‘we’ may deem more acceptable and less intrusive to our lives but I ask you to think when you walk past a homeless person, that they have had lives, rich and interesting lives that were thrown into turmoil due to circumstances that are often out of their control.

For those people who are not sure if they agree with this petition I would say if it is a problem for a homeless person to stay in that area, then perhaps a more human approach could be adopted – a person telling another person to move along is more humane than simply installing spikes.

7. But there are a few things we should note.


First, while these spikes appear to have been recently installed, spikes in London are certainly not a new thing, as this 1994 Independent article shows. It describes the addition of spikes outside a branch of Barclays near Harrods, among others.

And there’s a counter-argument regarding them. It’s best expressed by a student nurse in London who’d rather remain anonymous: she uses the Twitter handle @NurseBlurg.

8. She writes:


Firstly, these spikes and many other such deterrents have been used across London for years. I know this because I worked for a homeless outreach team and battled to engage rough sleepers who were so entrenched that they refused to accept help. This is what being homeless does to people, it destroys a person’s sense of worth to the point that either they don’t feel they deserve help or they cannot trust the people trying to give it because they no longer trust anyone. I met with business owners who wanted to know how they could get the person indoors and stop them from frightening or even sometimes harassing their customers.

As horrific as it must sound, sometimes you have to remove a person’s sleep site in order to engage that person. Rough sleeping is incredibly harmful, it affects a person’s physical and mental health and most importantly their personal safety. Each night you sleep rough you are risking getting a kicking because people do that to homeless people.

I guarantee that the outreach team in Southwark know about this site and have been trying to stop people rough sleeping there for some time, not because they lack humanity or a sense of community but because rough sleeping kills people. On average, homeless people die 30 years earlier than the rest of the population. It’s a slow suicide. Or sometimes actual suicide. Are businesses and housing associations cool about condoning something that kills people? No. That’s why they’ve put the spikes there. Or made the benches single. Or too narrow to sleep on. Look around you. These measures are in place all over London.

In my time in homeless services I’ve met a very small handful of people who genuinely wanted to drop out of society. They’re not sleeping in high profile places where people put spikes. They’re not rough sleeping in the doorways of private properties. They hide. And to them I say best of luck, that’s your right, to live as you please. To the people sleeping on main streets outside busy buildings, there’s more going on. A significant mental health problem, a drug problem, an alcohol problem, maybe they’ve been ASBOed from most of the borough they have a connection to. They need help. Letting them carry on as they are won’t help them.

If you’re worried about the spikes maybe instead you could worry about the housing shortage, or the lack of good mental health and drug and alcohol services in your area. Worry about how your local area is dealing with antisocial behaviour. Worry about children’s services, worry about decent homeless liaison teams in hospitals. Worry about the lack of shelters. Worry about the benefit cuts.

9. Rough sleeping is a complex issue – even when trying to gauge the extent of the problem.

It’s difficult to get an absolute figure for the number of people sleeping rough – the above are as close as we get. One reason is that, in order to protect themselves, many rough sleepers hide themselves away in places where they might be difficult to find. The Government figures above do not give the full story either: homelessness agencies across England often report seeing many more rough sleepers than the official figures record.

10. And it’s a varied picture across the country.

Rough sleeping in England, 2013.

gov.uk

Rough sleeping in London, 2013.

gov.uk

 

There’s certainly no doubt that rough sleepers face a number of problems which require government intervention: not least a lack of affordable private housing for those on local housing allowance and the exploitation of a growing number of migrants by modern slavemasters.

11. There are two numbers you can call if you see a homeless person in need of help.


StreetLink is a new hotline which enables members of the public to connect with local advice and services. The London version of this service, set up in April 2011, led to nearly 2,000 calls being made to the helpline and 415 rough sleepers being helped off the streets and into accommodation in the first six months - a rate of success four times higher than traditional services.

It’s now been launched nationally. The idea is simple: save the number (0300 500 0914) in your phone, and call it when you see a rough sleeper. You give the telephone worker a description of the person and their location. They will then get in touch with the council or a local homeless service to visit the person and provide support. If requested, StreetLink will give the person who made the call an update on what’s happening 10 days later.

And as NurseBlurg writes: “If you see someone rough sleeping in London call No Second Night Out on 0870 3833333. They can get an outreach team to that person within 24 hours, who can start the battle of building trust and getting the person back indoors.”

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