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Sidewalk spikes: How some homeless aren't sitting pretty

Metal spikes growing out of cement. Steel studs on steps. Rugged stones lining a sidewalk. These are all measures to prevent homeless people from sleeping or even sitting in public areas.

But a recent picture of anti-homeless spikes in London has gone viral, and a discussion about the morality of this "defensive architecture" has ensued.

The photo, taken outside a luxury housing development in London, was posted on Twitter and then picked up by the BBC. London Mayor Boris Johnson called the spikes "ugly, self-defeating and stupid," and tweeted that the "developer should remove them ASAP."

Since then, nearly 130,000 people have signed a petition, according to The Atlantic, and the housing development agreed to remove them. Activists poured concrete over anti-homeless spikes outside a London supermarket, the Huffington Post reported. Later that day, the supermarket announced it would remove the spikes.

But the episode has sparked a discussion about the morality of such measures.

"Ask yourself if you were appalled by the idea of the anti-homeless spikes. If so, then by implication you should have the same problems with other less obvious homeless deterrence designs like the sleep-prevention benches and the anti-loitering policies that target homeless people," The Atlantic's Robert Rosenberger wrote.

"Such regulations target things like sleeping in public, panhandling or even outdoor charity food service. This further complicates the relation of the homeless to this public landscape," he wrote.

Others are saying "defensive architecture" is a necessity.

Slate's Kristin Hohenadel interviewed Nils Norman, an artist who photographs what he calls "defensive architecture," who told her that the "spaces left over after planning" are "too small to develop, but large enough to encourage loitering or homeless camps."

"Inelegant and heartless as they may be, sidewalk spikes and other deterrents are nothing new and unlikely to disappear altogether, momentary collective crisis of conscience notwithstanding," Hohenadel wrote.

Meanwhile, others are coming up with unique solutions to accommodate homeless people in public spaces.

Web Urbanist, an architecture blog, found some creative ways urban benches could actually convert into homeless shelters, like a long bench with a panel as a roof or shelter, by architect Sean Goodsell. Or inflatable tents that run on the waste air vented from buildings by Michael Rakowitz.

One homeless shelter CEO in Montreal, where anti homeless benches and seats dot the city, pointed out that getting rid of anti-homeless person spikes is not enough. Matthew Pearce writes in a Montreal Gazette op-ed:

"The homeless can once again sit on store window ledges and sleep in doorways, but is this the face of Montreal we want to protect? I say no. If we agree to invest in transition and housing solutions, we will get a return on that investment almost immediately, by decreasing the more costly shelter services and redirecting spending to more housing options. We will see fewer people living on the streets — and then merchants will be able take away the spikes for all of the right reasons."

amcdonald@deseretnews @amymcdonald89

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