Sharp practice and the homeless

There has a lot of fuss about the posh development in London that installed sharp points in a doorway in order to stop the homeless sleeping there.

There has been a lot of fuss about the posh development in London that installed sharp points in a doorway in order to stop the homeless sleeping there. It is a visible sign of society’s attitudes, it is ugly and it is all too reminiscent of the pins that are put up to prevent pigeons perching on windowsills.

But it is nothing new. Most anti-homeless devices are a little more subtle, as a Radio 4 reporter learnt when he walked around Hackney with a homeless man. Air vents are deliberately sloped, bus shelters have narrow flimsy seats that nobody could lie on, and benches are divided with chunky handrails.

It is not only rough sleepers who are to be deterred. Many of us probably approve of measures to prevent people skateboarding on benches or driving onto the pavement. But the lion’s share of measures are taken against the homeless – against people who have little choice. As the Radio 4 interviewee said, ‘Nobody thinks, oh it’s a nice night, I’ll sleep on the street’. 

Some homeless people may be aggressive or smelly, and since they will need to urinate somewhere, their surroundings may not remain the freshest. But we do like to tidy our problems away, to forget that it is homelessness that is the problem and not the homeless. How much more compassionate was the approach of Australian architect Sean Godsell who won awards for his proposals for a park bench that could become a bed at night, and a bus shelter that could provide emergency sleeping accommodation (shown here).

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