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Homelessness , Supportive Housing

Homes Are Better Than Spikes.

24 June 2014

Susan Campbell, Partnership communications/development director 

A few weeks ago, some posh London neighborhoods took up the challenge of dealing with their city’s homeless population.

By one estimate, 300 people “sleep rough” – the British term for it – on London’s streets every night. The neighborhoods’ method of confronting the issue? They installed metal spikes in front of doorways and windows to make lounging for the night a thing of torture – as if homelessness, itself, wasn’t torture enough.

The idea, of course, was to make an environment uncomfortable and move the rough sleepers elsewhere. This is not a new idea. The next time you drive under a bridge and see large stones piled there, that’s not for decoration. It’s a thinly veiled attempt to move people who are homeless elsewhere.

But where, precisely, is “elsewhere?” If people who are homeless aren’t sleeping in a park, they’re sleeping on church steps. If they’re rousted from the steps, they’re sleeping in a bus station. Just because a person doesn’t have an address is no indication that they don’t sleep. They must. Seeking to move the homeless population elsewhere does precisely nothing, just as criminalizing homelessness (such as banning sitting in public)  does nothing more than push the issue aside.

But it’s still there. You just can’t see it.

As you might guess, the idea of using sharp metal spikes to repel a human body infuriated London activists, some of whom took it upon themselves to pour concrete over the spikes. When the international media picked up the story, the spikes were rather quickly (and quietly) removed.

I do not know what spikes cost. They were pretty sturdy and I’m guessing they weren’t cheap. That money could have been far better spent. Housing the homeless will always be cheaper than ignoring them – even if you install the choicest of spikes. That’s true everywhere including here, in Connecticut, where supportive housing has shown itself to be cost-effective and effective – and a whole lot prettier than metal spikes.

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