The spikes.

Twitter is enraged today because it has stumbled across a picture of some spikes in a doorway where previously people had been known to rough sleep. I agree, this is not a nice thing but I feel we are missing the point.

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.

Oh and 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.

45 thoughts on “The spikes.

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  2. There’s also absolutely nothing new about this – as you say, if you look around you, these measures have been there for a very long time (since, I guess, about the same time that there was a concerted multi-agency effort to relieve rough sleeping – an effort which has generally had a lot of success). What concerns me most about this story is that one picture is all it takes to trigger a storm even when, if asked, people have been seeing barriers, wires, studs and partitioned benches for like ever. It’s not really about the spikes, is it? It’s about a rage with the government and the 1% and all that.

  3. I managed a building in San Francisco where we had to create a false gate to remove an alcove. Twice homeless men had started fires in it, and the second time caused serious damage. This is cost shifting at its worst. Government under-funds programs and locals are left to deal with the costs of mitigating the situation.

  4. I’m sorry – but this is rubbish.

    What do you suppose a homeless person is going to do when they can’t find somewhere to sleep? If those spikes or that bench is somewhere they might lay their head normally? When they’re faced with seeing something like those spikes, it sends a message which reads ‘we don’t want you to be seen.’ Or ‘go away you’re not welcome.’

    Perhaps in their delicate mental state they might well think ‘oh they’ve put spikes down it means I should probably seek help.’ But in all likelihood, they will probably just see yet another ‘not wanted’ sign instead. That’s the thing you see. People end up homeless for many reasons, and some of those reasons are simply that they fall through the cracks, they are invisible, and they’re unwanted.

    Homeless people make the place look untidy. That’s generally how local authorities view them. Best to sweep them under the carpet where they can’t be seen, eh?

    You can’t depend on spikes to send a ‘get help’ message, or the sectioned benches etc. All it sends is a ‘not wanted’ message.

  5. To be honest don’t you think we should worry about the spikes AND the housing shortage and benefit cuts and greedy homeless charities who have repeatedly taken the “kings shilling” to make money off the back of the homeless rather than vociferously campaigning for them – in case they lose their funding?

  6. “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.”

    That’s a bit of a false dichotomy, isn’t it? Can’t we worry about both?

    And do we have to have one to tackle the other, really? I find it hard to buy into this idea that you have to make one thing unbearable in order to get people to accept help. Shouldn’t you just try and make the help seem more appealing?

  7. This is inhumane and the very definition of evil. Humans are not vermin. People experiencing homelessness are often targeted, mistreated, banned, and arrested, and this is just another similar measure. Does it actually matter that this has been going on for some time. “I’m not sure why people are upset now, slavery has been going on for some time…” Just bad logic. Speaking of flawed logic, the very idea that somehow these spikes are going to be in any way helpful is at best naive and at worst delusional. As Laudanum stated, the building owners have no intent in doing outreach services after putting down the spikes, they want to move “the problem” which is exactly what MIGHT happen. You know what else could happen? If someone who is accustomed to rough sleeping in doorways is on drugs/drunk as you suggest, they may just stumble into the spikes at night without warning. I guess then it’s just their bad luck.

    What about the liability of having spikes indiscriminately around buildings with out sectioning off the area? Couldn’t a child playing stumble into them, or God forbid someone’s pet Fluffy? That is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    Unfortunately this blog has all the paternalism of people who usually get paid to house the homeless. “Oh we know what’s best for these people. X, Y, and Z is not good for THEM.” It’s utter bullshit. We don’t get to tell rich people what is good for them, or what hours they should keep, and where they can sleep because they are rich. If they have a substance abuse problem they can check themselves into a clinic (or not) and society just has to deal with their decisions unless they commit a crime. The only reason we feel like we can tell homeless people what to do is because they have no money to defend themselves against constant harassment. And the incendiary use of characteristics of some (not the majority) of the group is appalling, “A significant mental health problem, a drug problem, an alcohol problem.” Stereotyping and discriminating against an entire group is a classic way to create a 2nd class to harass and scapegoat. “The Irish are drunks.” “The Roma steal from people,” etc.

    Finally, I am beyond tired of “if you’re so worried about X you should worry about Y” being used as an argument. Most humans I’d venture to say have the capacity to “worry about” multiple things at once, both related and unrelated. I can worry about crime and worry about gun control simultaneously. I can give money to AIDS and breast cancer research. That’s the incredible thing about the human mind, most of us can actually handle multiple tasks in a given day. So yes, I can advocate on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, try to donate to social service organizations, volunteer time at a soup kitchen AND become outraged when people across London see fit to treat human beings like pigeons or rats carrying disease.

    • I met a former partner while they were homeless and living in a hostel. The people who worked there tried their best but it wasn’t really ideal. One young person was sharing a room with a rather unstable drug addict. They were scared but told nothing could be done. Reasonable requests to meet a residents basic dietary requirements were refused, although money was spent on non essentials.
      The rules were Victorian and seemed to be designed to isolate the residents and prevent them socalising with friends or re establishing themselves within society. Like an early curfew and door locking policy that meant they couldn’t attend evening activities and still have a bed
      If you want to prevent people sleeping rough you need to give them a real alternative. A home where they will be treated with respect and seen as individuals.
      And that requires enough well trained staff who are genuine and caring in their interactions with residents, a willingness to be flexible if the circumstance requires, and sufficient hostel beds that a homeless person doesn’t decide not to try to get in to a hostel because it is too much effort and there is no guarantee of a place. Why don’t we have these things? Because it would cost real money, serious money and no one is willing to finance it. A few spikes and a water hose is a hell of a lot cheaper.
      Don’t get me wrong, the people who work with the homeless do an admirable job but the infrastructures are outdated and need rethinking. Staff need to be paid an ample wage so that this work gets the best people for the job.

      And before you tell me, or yourself that these people aren’t worth it, get to know some of them. They are from all walks of life and situations. Some have mental health issues, others may have had a relationship break down. Some had a job and home just like yours until circumstances took it away. Every one of them is a person who deserves : respect, freedom from abuse, a chance at a better life, and over everything the right to decide for themselves what they need.

    • OK. They are NOT ‘spikes’. They are studs. I mean, you can think what you like about them being politically objectionable, morally wrong, but they are not actually, physically dangerous.

  8. As a local resident I’m increasingly concerned by the amount of anti social behaviour of some residents of the shelter, which happens to be directly opposite this building across the road. Their website says,

    “Target group
    Single homeless people between age 18-59 who have established mental health problems and are on CPA. Can also accept those with alcohol and substance misuse problems.”

    Now am I the only person in this area to have been intimidated by individuals begging aggressively only then to return to the shelter to sleep? The man who accosted me was not homeless. Go look on an evening, you see lots of people sitting in doorways nearby, drinking and smoking, only to return to their shelter at night.

    Before you judge and troll the residents of that block how about understanding he rest of the story.

    I’m not going to apologise for wanting to feel secure in my local area without being accosted by drunks and drug addicts. Perhaps they have mental health issues too, but why should I suffer for that? I think it’s a great thing that there are shelters around here, but people need to know how to behave and those who care for them need to understand what they are doing when not in their care.

    Yes there needs to be more focus on homelessness and the socially vulnerable but why should hard working people be penalised for that?

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  11. Matthew, I agree with you. While people are rightly concerned about the plight of homeless people, it seems some haven’t thought about why the spikes were put there in the first place and I can only wonder what the flats’ residents were having to put up with to take such drastic action. It was probably a damn sight more than somebody quietly getting their head down for the night and then tidying up after themselves before moving on. Someone’s front doorstep isn’t the place to gather at night and anyone who thinks differently can always put their money where their mouths are and set up a cosy little corner in their own doorway before spouting off about the actions of others. Any takers? No – thought not!

  12. Interesting arguments on both sides. I for one having been there can only speak of my experience. Yes there are lots of reasons for homelessness but the most common one I came across was in my age group of teens to twenties was that they simply preferred to be on the street as it meant they answered to no-one and did not have to conform.

    Mine was a different reason more to do with family issues and eventually I came off the streets with the help of shelters like these but I knew many who even on the coldest days in winter would not leave their patch as street rules were if you moved your sleeping gear it your spot was up for grabs. There are though many people who will only come off the streets if they are forced to and to this day I firmly believe, like the person with a drug or alcohol problem, homelessness sometimes has to be tackled aggressively – it might sound harsh but it might just save a life.

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  14. Reblogged this on a year of serendipity and commented:
    Brilliant. This reminded me of a brilliant piece of advice I was once given after a thought exercise had embarrassed a whole room of caring practitioners that had leapt to an assumption. Always, always ask for more information. Assumptions are so dangerous. I leapt to the same angry knee-jerk assumptions as everyone else when I heard about the spikes as it fitted my stereotypes, my comfort zones. This is a reminder to not do that. I am grateful for the information within but the lesson too.

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  16. You can’t just call it something else (“rough sleeping” you say?) and then say…”no…we’re not anti homeless, we’re anti-rough sleeping.” I beleive it is YOU who are missing the point.

  17. So, your argument is that we should be worried about a lack of social housing, sanctions etc INSTEAD of worrying about these barbaric, offensive steel spikes?! Why? Why can’t we be offended and shocked by this approach AND the other social issues that we are generally aware of too? It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I was homeless for several years in the 80’s. Yes, there were similar approaches to eradicate homelessness then. But there is no reason not to STILL be shocked and upset by these metal spikes now. Or should we be unemotional and unaffected by this kind of thing now? No! If we don’t get angry about this it will be allowed to get worse. BTW – This is not knee jerk anger, it’s the way social media moves information around, in waves.

  18. I also currently work with homeless people, but I have to disagree with your main point!!! I agree with your statistics and the fact that people should be concerned about the lack of suitable housing, benefit sanctions and mental health provision but it does not negate the fact that this is inhumane.

    As you point out being homeless very often destroys a persons self-worth, they are regularly ignored and even worse abused they very often have lost everything in their world and to top it off lets put spikes in doorways to ensure they cannot find a slightly dryer and warmer safe to sleep!! I’m afraid you are missing the point – this is not the answer!!!

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  22. They could have fitted concrete planters instead, growing flowers in there.

    Sorry but spikes are aggressive.

  23. My initial thought in regard to the spikes is…….trip hazard!….closely followed by “if someone slips, trips or falls onto a spike, even though they may not be sharp, what sort of damage might that do?”

      • from the photo i saw, it looks very easy to trip over them…someone turning the corner looking at their phone could easily trip over a spike. But lets take a different situation…its winter, someone with thin blood, walking with crutches has a stick slip on ice, as they spin and fall on their back…on the spikes. what damage is done? is it possible? who is liable?

  24. How sad that No Second Night Out uses a rip-off 0870 phone number that costs up to 41p per minute to call.

    Someone’s always out to make a fast buck…

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  27. I work for a homeless outreach organisation and a night shelter and have done for a number of years. These spike and deterrents aren’t new, I agree. BUT I disagree with your argument that they are in place to target entrenched rough sleepers. There will always be new people to the streets, as well as entrenched sleepers. This will only affirm the message that they are worthless and will not help them to trust people. It only adds to their ‘us vs them’ mindset. You cannot force entrenched rough sleepers into engaging with services. You need to be good enough at your job and have policies that allow you to build up a sense of real trust over time, rather than make their life on the streets so impossible that they simply have to come to you. If they’re forced to do it, they won’t really be ready to take steps alongside you. These deterrents are short sighted, short term, selfish answers.
    I agree we should be worried about housing shortages and benefit sanctions and all the other root causes of homelessness, however, we should also be worrying about how we treat the most vulnerable people in our society, like rough sleepers, and ensure that they get the same respect, dignity and kindness shown to everyone else.

  28. Your post makes me think of a teenage girl I know. Although her own family didn’t have much, for years, she was frustrated at seeing people sleeping in the streets and would say, “They should really be in a shelter, no one should sleep in the streets.” Then this girl’s family lost their home when it was condemned by the housing authorities for having unsafe plumbing and electricity. They spent more than a year in shelters. The girl said, “Now I finally understand why some people just feel safer sleeping outside. In a shelter, if anyone wants to pick a fight with you, there’s nowhere to get away from them, you just have to fight back. It feels like jail.”
    Yes, society needs more low-income housing, and care for people with mental illness and addictions. But spikes are just not the answer–and the best way to build trust, and convince people that they’re better off in a shelter than the streets, is to involve people who have this girl’s life experience in making sure that it’s true.

  29. I trust as an outreach worker you were always doing your best, with good intentions. However, the problem is systemic: the homeless “charities” receiving central government funding have, for a considerable period, colluded with government policy that has seen them support the “hosing down”, “designing out” (spikes, gates etc.), and “dispersal” / “disruption” (e.g. nightly “wake-ups” and arrests) of rough-sleepers. Take a look at “Operation Encompass” running in six London boroughs, or consider this action in the context of the cuts, the banning of squatting, tougher guidelines for rough-sleepers to prove their “local connections”, banning of food-handouts and so on (and so on). It’s all part of a bigger agenda which further marginalises homeless and rootless people. Which is what we expect from a Tory Government, obviously. We might expect more from the homeless charities themselves. Finally, there is no proper evidence to support the statement “sometimes you have to remove a person’s sleep site in order to engage that person”. This is an interesting thesis, by the way which goes some way to explaining your (and my) differing views. Phew!

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