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. http://www.nosecondnightout.org.uk/ 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.