The image below has sparked an outcry on social media. A set of inch long studs were placed in an alcove outside a block of luxury flats in Southwark.
The spikes appear to have been put down to prevent people sleeping rough outside the block, and have been universally condemned by people online, including the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who called the spikes ‘ugly, self defeating and stupid’ on twitter.
Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleeping are ugly, self defeating & stupid. Developer should remove them ASAP.— Boris Johnson (@MayorofLondon) June 9, 2014
The spikes have also been compared to those which stop pigeons from perching on buildings. The comparison shows the mentality behind the spikes: that people who are homeless are less than people, and so deserve to be chased away to become someone else’s problem. To add insult to injury, the block is opposite a hostel for people who are homeless and suffering from mental health problems. I wonder if anyone in the hostel can see the spikes from their window.
People have responded to news of the spikes in force. A petition is calling for the spikes to be removed, which in just a few days has garnered forty two thousand signatures. Banners have also been placed at the site of the spikes, protesting the treatment of rough sleepers. Complaints have been made to the Southwark council. Peter John, leader of Southwark Council has responded with this statement: “Southwark Council is not involved with the installation of the studs outside of the property at 118 Southwark Bridge Road and we do not feel this is the best way to deal with the problem.
“The studs were not part of the original planning application for the building but would be considered too small to come under planning enforcement, however we will continue to see if there is anything within the council’s power to get these measures removed or an alternative solution found.”
Obviously, the spikes are inhumane, and hopefully this media storm will ensure that they will be removed. On the bright side, it’s good that this issue is getting so much attention. It shows that people care about the lives of those who are not only in a vulnerable situation, but who are misunderstood and marginalised. But the fact that someone feels the need to put spikes outside a building to prevent rough sleeping shows how much we need to address the perception of those who are homeless. This ongoing discussion can become an opportunity to talk about the reasons why rough sleeping has increased so much recently, with homelessness doubling in London in the past two years, as a result of issues such as the lack of affordable housing and benefit cuts.