Having lived in Washington, D.C. for a while—first in the basement of a row house next to an alley, later in a pair of nicer apartment buildings with controlled access and gyms and the like—I'm not sure what my favorite thing about the homeless population was. Perhaps it was the urinating in public? The public-poopers were also pretty great. The odor these citizens left behind—in the eaves near doorways, in the alleys near my garbage cans—was quite nice. There was the constant, looming threat of violence, of course: the upstanding gentleman with the train of grocery carts who threatened my dog and I; the random assortment of belligerent drunks who would occasionally try to sneak into the building behind me. Another real plus. After a while smaller nuisances—discarded bottles of cheap hooch and half-eaten chicken wings and panhandling—became basically invisible.
City Living: Gotta Love It!™
Anyway, it was with some amusement that I read this piece, about the evils of businesses and apartment buildings and cities trying to dissuade the homeless from sleeping in public. This tweet does a handy job of encapsulating the argument:
Anti homeless floor studs. So much for community spirit 🙁 pic.twitter.com/Yz8VF7Ryid
— Ethical Pioneer (@ethicalpioneer) June 6, 2014
That photo is of the entryway to an apartment complex. The apartment complex—its residents apparently tired of the homeless gathering under its overhang and crowding around its entryway—put obtrusive spikes down in order to discourage sleeping. And, good lord, you would've thought that the apartment complex literally ground the homeless into chow for the dogs of those who live in the building by the response. Here's Robert Rosenberger:
The spikes were intended to discourage homeless people from sleeping in the area, and their presence sparked a public outcry. London’s mayor called the spikes "ugly, self defeating & stupid," and the mayor of Montreal called similar spikes in his own city "unacceptable!!!!" Protesters poured concrete over a set of spikes outside of a Tesco supermarket. Then, after a petition was signed by nearly 130,000 people, the spikes were removed from the London apartment building, the Tesco, and downtown Montreal.
It has been encouraging to see the outrage over the London spikes. But the spikes that caused the uproar are by no means the only form of homeless-deterrent technology; they are simply the most conspicuous. Will public concern over the spikes extend to other less obvious instances of anti-homeless design?
Rosenberger then goes on to demonstrate how cities have designed benches to deter sleeping by the homeless. To which I say: great! That's fantastic! Cities should be doing more to discourage the gathering of the homeless in unsafe outdoors areas.
I suppose this marks me as some sort of heartless reactionary—guilty—but since when has it been accepted that vagrants should just be able to plop down wherever they please and get their sleep on? Since when has society just been cool with the homeless—a significant portion of whom are mentally ill—hanging out around private buildings or camping out in public parks? I mean, look, I think we should have a discussion about the problem of homelessness. But the solutions to that problem include things like "more involuntary commitments of the deranged" and "more spending on shelters," not "Just let the bums lay where they please and how dare you try to stop it!"
So yes: bring on the homeless spikes! Build us benches on which it is impossible to sleep! Create vents that are both aesthetically appealing and reduce sleeping space for vagrants! Do all of this and more! Reducing homelessness should be the goal of every major metropolis. Taxpaying citizens deserve nothing less.