Return of the Iron Maiden? This London Building Installed Sidewalk Spikes to Keep Away the Homeless

A million-dollar condominium complex doesn’t want destitute folks sleeping in its doorways or corners.

(Photo: @ethicalpioneer/Twitter)

Jun 9, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Just when you thought London’s medieval torture days were over, a pricey condominium complex in the British capital has come under fire for taking a less-than-humane approach to the homeless. Real-estate company Property Partners has drilled a series of Iron Maiden–style metal spikes into the sidewalk alongside one of its Southwark Bridge Road properties, making it impossible for anyone to sit or lie down next to the building.

One of the building’s residents anonymously told the Telegraph that six weeks ago a homeless man was asleep on the sidewalk where the spikes have been placed. “Then about two weeks ago all of a sudden studs were put up outside,” said the resident. “I presume it is to deter homeless people from sleeping there.”

The controversy over the spikes erupted on Saturday, when Twitter user Ethical Pioneer uploaded a photo of them to social media. Another Twitter user, David Wells, aptly expressed the ensuing outrage. “These Anti homeless studs are like the spikes they use to keep pigeons off buildings. The destitute [are] now considered vermin,” he tweeted.

The condos, located in a swanky London neighborhood, sell for upwards of $1.3 million, a pricey example of the post–global economic crisis extremes of wealth and poverty in the city. The number of homeless sleeping on the streets has jumped 75 percent over the past three years, Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at London homeless charity Crisis, said in a statement.

“Behind these numbers are real people struggling with a lack of housing, cuts to benefits, and cuts to homelessness services to help them rebuild their lives,” said Sacks-Jones. “They might have suffered a relationship breakdown, a bereavement or domestic abuse. They deserve better than to be moved on to the next doorway along the street. We will never tackle rough sleeping with studs in the pavement. Instead we must deal with the causes.”

A petition started by London resident Harriet Wells, who works as a mental health nurse, echoes those sentiments. Wells’ petition, which as of this writing has nearly 15,000 signatures, is asking Property Partners and London Mayor Boris Johnson to remove the spikes.

“We should be looking after our vulnerable population, not ostracizing them by moving them to places that are less intrusive to our lives, so that they are out of sight,” wrote Wells in the petition.

Not all of the building’s residents are as empathetic to the plight of folks forced to sleep on the street. As a lawyer named Peter said to the Telegraph, “Would you want homeless people outside your door?”

Sure, nobody wants homeless people sleeping outside, but someone should tell Peter that providing housing for the homeless, not installing spikes, saves cities millions of dollars. Law enforcement responds to fewer incidents, and people don’t land in emergency rooms because of exposure to the elements.

None of us, not even Peter, knows when our individual situation will change. Owing to high housing costs, it’s been predicted that homelessness in the United States will increase in 2014. As safety net programs evaporate, who’s to say we won’t one day be facing spikes on the ground? “The next time you walk past a homeless person,” wrote Wells in her petition, “think about the fact that they have had lives, rich and interesting lives that were thrown into turmoil due to circumstances that are often out of their control.”