Selfridges, a United Kingdom-based department store, installed metal spikes outside of its flagship store in Manchester that some have said are meant to drive away the homeless.
— The Independent (@Independent) February 16, 2015
A company spokesman defended the spikes and told The Independent that they were put there “as part of a number of measures to reduce litter and smoking outside the store’s team entrance, following customer complaints.”
The store’s spikes inspired Manchester resident Cathy Urquhart to start a petition on Change.org to have them removed, which had more than 6,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning. “These spikes are an affront to humanity,” she writes. “They tell the homeless that they are not welcome, that they are a problem to be moved on.”
This is not the first time such spikes have cropped up in the country. Last year, a block of privately-owned apartments in a rich neighborhood installed them to keep away the homeless, as did the supermarket Tesco. The photos of Tesco’s spikes went viral and members of the community planned protests, so the supermarket agreed to get rid of them. The apartment complex eventually did away with them as well.
“Rough sleeping,” the British term for unsheltered homeless, has risen in the country in recent years thanks to the economy and cuts to housing benefits, spiking by 75 percent in London over the past three. Across England, there were 2,414 people experiencing rough sleeping as of fall of 2013, up 37 percent over 2010. A national homeless charity, No One Turned Away, sent undercover researchers to 16 local authorities in search of homelessness assistance and found that the majority received little or no help.
The United States has a far larger number of unsheltered homeless people on any given night, although of course a much larger population. More than 135,000 people have no indoor place to sleep. Many cities have decided that the solution is to try to drive the homeless away by closing parks, offering them one-way bus tickets, and criminalizing things like sleeping outside or panhandling.
Yet other places have found that it is far cheaper to find housing for the homeless than to leave them outside and risk run-ins with the police or emergency room visits. Three cities have sheltered entire swaths of their homeless populations.