These are an example of "anti-homeless spikes."

Photo by Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images.

Inviting, huh?


Most of the time, they're designed to be discreet and easy to miss (and that's no accident). Still, you may have spotted them around your own town — maybe outside a business or in a park.

As their name suggests, anti-homeless spikes are intended to keep homeless people away.

Photo by Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images.

They'll usually crop up in areas where a homeless person might find some quiet away from the hustle and bustle, or a spot that's relatively well-sheltered from the elements.

In January 2017, spikes like these appeared outside the Pall Mall Court in Manchester, England. And many people were not happy about it.

“This is not the answer to rough sleeping," Pat Karney, Manchester council spokesman, told the Manchester Evening News of the spikes. "It’s demeaning in that way."

One of those unhappy people was a local woman named Jennie Platt. The Manchester mom — who called the spikes "a Scroogey thing to do" — wasn't about to let the heartless act fly.

As Mashable reported, Platt and her kids decided to give the spikes a more comfortable upgrade.

Platt — with help from her 10- and 11-year-old sons, along with a few of their rugby teammates — covered the spikes with cushions and pillows.

Well done Jennie platt and sedgley park boys

Posted by Colette Stevens on Sunday, January 29, 2017

"The building owners are treating human beings like pigeons," Platt told the BBC, noting she woke up "with a right bee in [her] bonnet" after learning the news and decided she needed to do something.

Platt also left sandwiches and chocolate bars for anyone who could use a snack, encouraging folks to "take a seat and have a bite to eat."

“It’s a spot where people can keep warm and sheltered," explained Platt. "People don’t need to be that mean."

The spikes are right outside Pall Mall Medical, a healthcare facility that rents out a space in the court, which said it had nothing to do with their installment. GVA, the company that manages the building, declined to comment to the Manchester Evening News.

Update Feb. 7, 2017: The spikes have been removed by the building's owner after public outcry, the Manchester Evening News reported.

Unfortunately, the anti-homeless renovation in Manchester is indicative of a larger issue that doesn't stop at spikes.

Governments and businesses alike have sneakily built up anti-homeless infrastructure in urban spaces all around the world.

If you've been to Tokyo, you may have noticed "dangerously slippery" benches designed specifically to be uncomfortable, warding off anyone who wants to rest more than a few moments.  

In places like Salt Lake City and Lincoln, Nebraska, you might come across benches with vertical slats between the seats, made to deter anyone from lying down.

A man saws at an armrest in Toulouse, France, in 2006 in protest of the mistreatment of homeless people. Photo by Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images.

This type of urban planning pushes the problem of chronic homelessness aside without helping to provide a solution.

Shooing away homeless people by building slippery benches, installing excessive armrests, and adding spikes to sidewalks doesn't mean homeless people disappear. It means the most vulnerable among us — many who struggle with mental illness or are living on the street because they can't stay at a shelter — are left unwelcome in larger and larger spaces within our communities. This type of heartless infrastructure only exacerbates the problem.

Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

Instead of hoping homeless people disappear, we should focus our attention on ideas that help them in the long run.

Beyond supporting your local homeless shelter by volunteering and donating, you can rally your representatives to join the fight. For example, Housing First — a strategy that provides people with a home quickly and unconditionally, then gives them the resources they need to stand on their own (like help with addiction or career services) — is a model that's been proven to work in several cities and states. Make sure the leaders in your area know you care about this issue and want funding for local initiatives, like Housing First, that make a big difference.

Platt realizes her efforts may be short-lived. But as more people notice her deed, she hopes it will change hearts and minds.

"I know [the cushions] won't last and I know they'll get wet," she said. "But the people who manage that building need to know how to treat people."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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