Selfridges in row over anti-homeless spikes

Sarah Coles
anti-homeless spikes outside selfridges
anti-homeless spikes outside selfridges

Selfridges is under pressure to remove a row of anti-homeless spikes outside a doorway of its Manchester city centre branch.

Cathy Urquhart, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, spotted the spikes outside the store on Friday, and launched an online petition. It has already garnered over 3,500 signatures.

She told the Manchester Evening News: "I was so shocked when I saw the spikes. I just thought this is not Manchester. We are nicer than this." She took a photo and shared it on Facebook, and because of the overwhelming response she had from her friends, she started the online petition.

On the petition, she writes: "These spikes are an affront to humanity. They tell the homeless that they are not welcome, that they are a problem to be moved on. We should be looking after the homeless, not demonising and scapegoating them. Manchester is better than this!"

Some of those signing the petition have added comments, such as: "The homeless are people in need; they are not pests to be deterred or shooed away. Anti-homeless spikes are at the peak of heartlessness," and, "I am disgusted that people have no compassion to people on the streets and install such hideous things. Help the homeless; don't do things to deliberately make their incredibly difficult lives even harder."

Selfridges said the spikes had been in place since the beginning of December. It insisted that they were not designed to have any impact on the homeless. They were in response to customer complaints about people smoking outside the staff entrance and dropping litter - so were designed to stop anyone hanging around outside there.

The Manchester Evening News added that the town hall's city centre spokesman Pat Karney was hoping to hold talks with the store. Meanwhile, the Manchester Angels said it would be setting up its Street Kitchen by the spikes this Saturday if they are not removed, and Help The Homeless of East Lancashire said they would join the protest.

Anti-homeless spikes

It's not the first time that anti-homeless spikes have caused dismay. Some were installed outside a block of flats on Southwark Bridge Road in London last summer, but after a petition attracted 130,000 signatures, the spikes were removed.

Others were in place outside a branch of Tesco on Regent Street in central London, but after protesters poured concrete on them, the supermarket removed them. Similarly spikes were removed from outside a branch of Halifax in Swansea after a Facebook and Twitter campaign.

Reactions around the world have been similar. One Montreal bookshop installed the spikes, but after a public backlash and an angry tweet from the Mayor, the spikes were removed by the building owners.

In Glasgow, one vigilante took matters into his own hands, when spike barriers were placed by a warm air vent at the back of a vacant building - forcing two homeless brothers to sleep elsewhere. He took his toolkit round and removed the barriers, so the brothers could get warm again.

Similarly, at Christmas, metal cages were installed over benches in Angouleme in South West France, to discourage people from 'loitering' and drinking or taking drugs on the benches. The local paper sad that the shopping precinct where the benches were installed had taken action after a number of fights centred around the benches. However, after a backlash, the cages were removed.

Are they right?

We should perhaps not be surprised that so many businesses have taken steps to deter rough sleeping. The figures show that the number of people spending the night on the street is up more than a third since 2010, so that at the moment more than 2,000 people in the UK sleep rough every night. More homeless people forced to sleep in the street is bound to increase the number of responses - and clearly in some cases this comes in the form of these kinds of deterrents.

While the majority of people think that the spikes are an incredibly cruel approach to the vulnerable in society, who need support rather than punishment, there is a significant minority who have every sympathy for the businesses concerned. A poll conducted by the Independent after the London spike outcry last year, for example, found that 36% of people felt that use of the spikes was justified.

What do you think? Do these spikes offer protection for businesses that are struggling enough in the harsh economy? Or are they a sign that we have lost our compassion in the pursuit of profit? Let us know in the comments.

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