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Research: Homeless people increasingly forced out of public spaces by hostile measures


Homeless people have reported an increase in spikes, noise pollution and other hostile measures in public spaces, according to new research from national homelessness charity Crisis.

Over 400 people were surveyed in homelessness services across England and Wales, with six in ten reporting an increase over the last year in defensive architecture - such as anti-homeless spikes, curved or segregated benches and gated doorways - that makes sitting or lying down impossible. Over the same period, 35% reported they were unable to find anywhere to sleep or rest as a result.

When they did find a place to rest, a fifth (20%) of those surveyed reported suffering from deliberate noise pollution such as loud music or recorded bird song and traffic sounds, making it hard or impossible to sleep.

A further 63% had witnessed an increase in wardens and security guards in public spaces. Some respondents reported being regularly moved on in the middle of the night, while 21% reported 'wetting down' - having makeshift sleeping areas washed down while they were still in them.

With temperatures plummeting and rough sleeping continuing to rise across the country, Crisis is calling on those designing homeless people out of public spaces to instead work with local services to help homeless people access the help they need.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:

“The rise of anti-homeless spikes, noise pollution and other hostile measures is a sad indictment of how we treat the most vulnerable people in our society. Rough sleeping is devastating enough without homeless people having to endure such hostility from their surroundings.

“We can all be guilty of adopting an out of sight, out of mind attitude when it comes to homelessness. Instead we need to acknowledge that it is rising and that we need to work together to end it. Councils, developers, businesses and other proponents of hostile architecture need to think again about the obvious harm these insidious measures are causing. People who are forced to sleep rough need access to the appropriate help, not to be regarded as a problem to be swept under the carpet.

“Helping people to stay off the streets and rebuild their lives is about basic social justice – it’s the right thing to do. That’s why the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, is so urgently needed. If passed, this crucial bill will help prevent people from becoming homeless, instead of being forced to live on the ever-more hostile streets.”


“Instead of coming in in the mornings and saying, like, ‘Everybody had to get up,’ they start washing the steps down. So, you’d be in bed and getting wet.” John

“The police are a lot more vigilant, whereas before they’d leave you alone, whereas now, you know, they’ll come actually looking for you, and either arrest you or move you on.” Shelly

“I find all benches…They’re always either curved in the middle so they raise up, or they’re slanted so yeah, to be honest like it’s hard to find a bench to sleep in.” Dan

“The noise, it wasn’t music it was like, bird’s noises, boats…and then trains.” Steve

There were three speakers along this tunnel and all the people who slept under the speaker and, you just couldn’t sleep, because of the noise, it was boats, trains, bird noises, animal noises, it was strange, it was altogether, you know, and it was weird, it was horrible.” John



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Notes to Editors

Over the summer of 2016 458 people who were either currently sleeping rough or had been in the last 12 months completed a face-to-face survey. Surveys were completed across 21 localities in England and Wales at a variety of homelessness services and organisations. The sample surveyed closely represented the demographic nature of the wider rough sleeping population.

Questions in the survey asked if they had ever, ‘Not been able to find anywhere to sleep or rest because of the design of buildings and street furniture i.e. homeless spikes, benches designed not for lying on’. It also asked whether they had experienced this within the last 12 months.

The same was asked of whether they had ever and within the last 12 months experienced being ‘Disturbed on purpose by noise pollution in a public place (i.e. unpleasant music/noise broadcast in a given area to stop you sleeping/staying there).

Respondents were also were asked to what extent they agreed with the statements: ‘Over the past couple of years there has been an increase in seats and surfaces in public spaces being designed to be uncomfortable or stop people lying down’ and ‘Over the past couple of years there has been an increased (e.g. security guards and community safety teams) patrolling public spaces.’