Sidewalk spikes: How some homeless aren't sitting pretty

Compiled by Amy McDonald, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Wed, June 25, 2014, 4:05 a.m. MDT

 Metal spikes to deter homeless sleepers. Metal spikes installed outside 118 Southwark Bridge Road, London, to deter homeless people from sleeping there.

Metal spikes to deter homeless sleepers. Metal spikes installed outside 118 Southwark Bridge Road, London, to deter homeless people from sleeping there.

(Steve Parsons, PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Metal spikes growing out of cement. Steel studs on steps. Rugged stones lining a sidewalk. These are all measures to prevent homeless people from sleeping or even sitting in public areas.

But a recent picture of anti-homeless spikes in London has gone viral, and a discussion about the morality of this "defensive architecture" has ensued.

The photo, taken outside a luxury housing development in London, was posted on Twitter and then picked up by the BBC. London Mayor Boris Johnson called the spikes "ugly, self-defeating and stupid," and tweeted that the "developer should remove them ASAP."

Since then, nearly 130,000 people have signed a petition, according to The Atlantic, and the housing development agreed to remove them. Activists poured concrete over anti-homeless spikes outside a London supermarket, the Huffington Post reported. Later that day, the supermarket announced it would remove the spikes.

But the episode has sparked a discussion about the morality of such measures.

"Ask yourself if you were appalled by the idea of the anti-homeless spikes. If so, then by implication you should have the same problems with other less obvious homeless deterrence designs like the sleep-prevention benches and the anti-loitering policies that target homeless people," The Atlantic's Robert Rosenberger wrote.

"Such regulations target things like sleeping in public, panhandling or even outdoor charity food service. This further complicates the relation of the homeless to this public landscape," he wrote.

Others are saying "defensive architecture" is a necessity.

Slate's Kristin Hohenadel interviewed Nils Norman, an artist who photographs what he calls "defensive architecture," who told her that the "spaces left over after planning" are "too small to develop, but large enough to encourage loitering or homeless camps."

"Inelegant and heartless as they may be, sidewalk spikes and other deterrents are nothing new and unlikely to disappear altogether, momentary collective crisis of conscience notwithstanding," Hohenadel wrote.

Meanwhile, others are coming up with unique solutions to accommodate homeless people in public spaces.

Web Urbanist, an architecture blog, found some creative ways urban benches could actually convert into homeless shelters, like a long bench with a panel as a roof or shelter, by architect Sean Goodsell. Or inflatable tents that run on the waste air vented from buildings by Michael Rakowitz.

One homeless shelter CEO in Montreal, where anti homeless benches and seats dot the city, pointed out that getting rid of anti-homeless person spikes is not enough. Matthew Pearce writes in a Montreal Gazette op-ed:

"The homeless can once again sit on store window ledges and sleep in doorways, but is this the face of Montreal we want to protect? I say no. … If we agree to invest in transition and housing solutions, we will get a return on that investment almost immediately, by decreasing the more costly shelter services and redirecting spending to more housing options. We will see fewer people living on the streets — and then merchants will be able take away the spikes for all of the right reasons."



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1. Mareao
Bountiful, UT,
June 25, 2014

There is a big difference between being temporarily homeless and being homeless by choice. The anti-homeless architecture is there to protect against the homeless by choice. It is the right of any owner to protect property and business. It's not that a homeless person might sleep there overnight, it's the mess, the vandalism, the crime, the public intoxication, and everything else that goes with the homeless by choice. These are real problems for people trying to maintain a property or run a business, and there is nothing wrong with solving them.

2. MrsH
Altamont, UT,
June 25, 2014

I can just see someone tripping on these spikes or rocks, or landing on the spikes and then ther is a lawsuit.
Doesn't look like a good solution to me.

3. happy2bhere
clearfield, UT,
June 25, 2014


So if a person walking down the street trips over a homeless person, or their junk, lying in a doorway or along a walkway, could they sue the city for not getting rid of a public nuisance? Letting the homeless live where and how they want doesn't look like a good solution to me.

4. intervention
slc, UT,
June 25, 2014

some cities choose to do the right thing despite the misinformation spread by people like the first poster. Cities like salt lake have choose to take a not only less unsightly but less cruel approach of housing first address the very complex issues faced by the chronically homeless, since adopting such an approach SL had managed to reduce the number of chronic;homelessness by over 75% in in the past decade.I hope people will take the time get it educated on this very complex issue and not simply buy into the reductive analysis of those that simply want to wash their hands of any sense of responsibility for solving the more complex issues of our society.

5. MrsH
Altamont, UT,
June 26, 2014

Point taken.
Don't know if there IS a good solution...