Spikes, railings and water are weapons of ‘dehumanising’ campaign against homeless

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Spikes, railings and water are weapons of ‘dehumanising’ campaign against homeless
© Jeff Hubbard/Crisis

Charity says that rough sleepers are victims of ‘defensive architecture’ built to stop them resting outdoors

A campaign against homeless people is being waged in Britain’s cities, according to a new survey that claims “street cleansing” tactics are being employed by planners, businesses and security companies to stop people resting or sleeping outdoors.

Interviewed by the national homelessness charity Crisis, rough sleepers reported being hosed with water by security guards to make them move on, and an increase in the use of other “deterrent” measures.

More than 450 people were surveyed in homelessness services across England and Wales. Six in 10 reported an increase over the past year in “defensive architecture” to keep homeless people away, making sitting or lying down impossible – including spikes and railings, curved or segregated benches and gated doorways. Others said they had experienced deliberate noise pollution, such as loud music or recorded birdsong and traffic sounds, making it hard or impossible to sleep. Almost two-thirds of respondents said there had been an increase in the number of wardens and security guards in public spaces, who were regularly moving people on in the middle of the night, sometimes by washing down spaces where people were attempting to rest or sleep. Others reported noise being played over loudspeakers in tunnels and outside buildings.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said he had been shocked by the findings. “It’s dehumanising people,” he said. “If people have chosen the safest, driest spot they can find, your moving them along is making life more dangerous.

“If it’s somewhere you live or run a business, I understand you want the immediate environs to be nice. If we’re talking about antisocial behaviour, you don’t want that in your doorway. But don’t make the homeless the victims. The planners have a responsibility to plan in a way that’s not hurting people. […]