From adding spikes to removing benches, anti-homeless architecture hurts us all

These "solutions" to homelessness issues are making things worse.

"HOMELESS JESUS" by sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz in Toronto, Canada

Have you noticed it's getting harder and harder to find a place to sit in public spaces these days? There's a reason for that. It's a purposeful choice many municipalities are making in an effort to keep people who are homeless from setting up camp or making beds out of benches.

The anti-homeless spikes that make lying down on steps, along buildings and on other flat surfaces have been addressed by communities in creative ways, such as the artists who set up a cozy bed with a bookshelf attached to it over one set of spikes in London. But there are other manifestations of hostile architecture popping up around the world as the homelessness crisis reaches dire proportions in some cities.

Hostile or anti-homeless architecture makes the environment incompatible with comfortable rest and relaxation, which serves the purpose of pushing homeless people out of those spaces (but does nothing to actually solve the problem). And at the same time, it makes shared public spaces a lot less comfortable for everyone.

Cash Jordan shared a bunch of examples of hostile architecture in New York City, from bumpy subway vent covers that prevent people from sleeping on them, to slanted benches you can just lean on but not sit on, to removing benches and seats from public transportation stations altogether.

Not only do such choices make life harder for homeless people, but people with disabilities, elderly and pregnant people and others need to be able to sit for a bit when they're out and about. And all of us could use a little respite from walking and standing sometimes. Hostile architecture choices remove features that make public spaces accessible and usable for us all.

Watch Jordan explain:

"It seems to me the 'hostile architecture' is only kicking the can down the road— if you notice they are not solving their homeless crisis—just keeping people out of certain areas," wrote one commenter.

"That's not stopping people from being homelesss, that's just making everyone uncomfortable," wrote another.

"Cities/people think homeless people will just go away with things like this. Unless you've been homeless (I have) you don't understand the desperation, fear, and embarrassment of it. Whether due to poor choices or not (and it's NOT always, even in America), no one deserves this," shared another.

"As someone with a disability that makes it very painful for me to stand for long periods, that train station would be absolute hell," added another. "So not only is this affecting the homeless population, it affects the many, many people like me with disabilities. I don’t like having to take my wheelchair places if I can help it, but places like that would force me to."

Homelessness is not a simple problem to solve, no matter what anyone says, but putting money into something like this, which doesn't actually address the problem itself, is wasteful in addition to making public spaces less usable. What if we invested that money into quality, affordable housing, programs that address the addiction and mental health issues that often perpetuate homelessness or other initiatives that actually stand a chance of solving the problem at its core instead?

Targeting the homeless population with hostile architecture is unkind at its core, and making public spaces uninviting, unwelcoming and uncomfortable for all is a short-sighted "fix" that doesn't actually help anyone. Let's take a step back, reset our moral compass and create spaces that are useful, accessible and comfortable for all.

Photo by Jackie Cook/MyLondon Photography Contest.

Many locks of bright, pink hair peek around the corner of the stairwell.

A group of 105 homeless people gathered at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

Each of them was given a disposable camera and told to take pictures that represent "my London."

The photos were entered in an annual contest run by London-based nonprofit Cafe Art, which gives homeless artists the chance to have their work displayed around the city and, for some of the photographers who participate in the yearly challenge, in a print calendar.

"Some people have had experience, and others have never picked up a camera before," said Paul Ryan, co-director of Cafe Art.

The program, Ryan explained, includes mentorship and training from professional volunteers at the Royal Photographic Society, including winners of the contest from previous years, many of whom are ultimately inducted into the society.

contest, London, social circles, job market

A "Drivers Wanted" sign in the window from the MyLondon Photography Contest.

Photo by Richard Fletcher/MyLondon Photography Contest. All photos used with permission.

The goal of the challenge is to help participants gain the confidence to get back on the job market, search for housing, re-engage with their social circles, or even activate dormant skills.

"I really enjoyed it. And I started to get involved in my art again, which I'd left for years," a 2015 participant said in a video for the organization's Kickstarter campaign.

These are 11 of the top vote-getters from this year's contest:

1. Ella Sullivan — "Heart Bike Rack"

bike rack, photography, hearts, charity

A heart shaped bike rack.

Photo by Ella Sullivan/MyLondon Photography Contest

2. Alana Del Valle — "London Bus with Sculpture"

double-decker-bus, sculpture, contest

A red-double-decker-bus behind a mirrored sculpture.

Photo by Alana Del Valle/MyLondon Photography Contest

3. Beatrice — "Out of the Blue"

shadows, hands, artist, art

A hand shadow reaches up the wall toward a water container.

Photo by Beatrice/MyLondon Photography Contest

4. Laz Ozerden — "What Now?"

charity, donations, pan handling

Open hands accepting donations.

Photo by Laz Ozerden/MyLondon Photography Contest

5. Leo Shaul — "The Coffee Roaster"

coffee, roasters, model

A long coat hugs “The Coffee Roaster."

Photo by Leo Shaul/MyLondon Photography Contest

6. Christopher McTavish — "St. Paul's in Reflection"

St. Paul\u2019s, historic buildings, government

St. Paul’s cast a reflection against a blue shoe in a puddle.

Photo by Christopher McTavish/MyLondon Photography Contest

7. Hugh Gary — "London Calling"

phone booth, red kiosk, iconic

London calling.

Photo by Hugh Gary/MyLondon Photography Contest

8. Keith Norris — "Watching Mannequin"

mannequin, window display, reflections

Rolling your eyes at a mannequin.

Photo by Keith Norris/MyLondon Photography Contest

9. Siliana — "After the Rain"

tourism, tour boats, bridges, rain

A boat cruises under the bridge after a rainy day.

Photo by Siliana/MyLondon Photography Contest

10. Saffron Saidi — "Graffiti Area"

street art, graffiti, Dalmatians

Life reflecting art.

Photo by Saffron Saidi/MyLondon Photography Contest

11. Jackie Cook — "Underground Exit"

transportation, walking, stairwell, hide-n-seek

Who’s that in the stairwell?

Photo by Jackie Cook/MyLondon Photography Contest

Ryan, who has been developing the program for seven years, said that while there's no one-size-fits-all solution for individuals who are homeless, for some who are too used to being "knocked back," the experience of seeing their work on display or in print — and of success — can be invaluable.

"Everyone is helped in a different way, to get up to the next step in whatever way they need to."

This article originally appeared on 08.17.16

A demonstration of the Satellite Shelter.

When blizzards line up to rip through the Northeast, schools close, flights are canceled, and people even board up their houses. Though missions and homeless shelters do what they can to provide safety to those who have no homes to go to, thousands of people still have to weather the cold outside.

At Carnegie Mellon University's 2015 Impact-a-Thon, students were challenged to provide a temporary low-cost shelter for homeless people during the winter.

One team of students came up with the "Satellite Shelter," an insulated sleeping bag that converts into a tented structure. The students used mylar, a reflective material frequently used in greenhouses and space blankets, and wool blankets to ensure the shelter would keep anyone in it safe from the cold.

"We wanted to make sure it was super-portable and durable so that it's easy to carry," said student Linh Thi Do, who worked on the project. "We have wheels on it so it's easy to move from place to place."

Solutions like this one are handy in an emergency. Perhaps, however, other cities should take note of the city of New Orleans' success in providing long-term housing solutions for its homeless veterans. The only perfect solution to homelessness is giving people permanent homes to go to at night.

This article originally appeared on 01.26.15


How would a homeless person spend free cash? The answer may surprise you.

Fifty people experiencing homelessness were given $5,400 and told to spend it however they wanted. Here's what they did with the money.


A study revealed what a homeless person actually spends their money on.

In 2018, 50 individuals in Vancouver who had become homeless in the past two years were selected to receive a lump sum equivalent to around $5,498 USD to do with whatever they wanted. No questions asked.

In addition to the cash, they received a year of coaching and workshops that could help with developing life skills, goal setting, self-affirmation and brainstorming strategies to gain more stability.

The gesture was part of a peer-reviewed PNAS study, which also included the research team separately surveying 1,100 people, asking them to guess how the recipients would spend their money.

The general prediction was that these individuals, if experiencing homelessness, would spend 81 percent more on “temptation goods” like alcohol, drugs or tobacco than if they were not.

A follow-up survey proved that prediction wrong.

A year later, the recipients reported having spent the money on food, clothes and rent, and had been able to save up for more stable housing.

homelessness, homeless programs

There is an infinite number of reasons why someone would need the money.


Of course, the study is fairly small and does rely on self-reporting, in which facts can be skewed. Plus individuals had to have “nonsevere levels of substance use, alcohol use, and mental health symptoms” in order to qualify. But regardless, it shows the (unfounded) tendency society has to attribute some kind of character flaw—poor decision-making skills, addiction, laziness—as the core cause of someone dealing with homelessness, rather than simply a lack of money and resources.

The creators of the study argue that “traditional approaches,” which mainly focus on emergency services, healthcare and housing supports, only help prevent “more severe forms of homelessness.” They do not address the financial and psychological barriers incited through poverty. They added that other countries that have begun offering unconditional cash transfers to those with low income have seen improvement in their “physical health, psychological well-being, education and employment, and financial management.”


Around 582,000 Americans were experiencing homelessness in 2022.


Rather than enabling vices, these cash transfers actually “reduce impulsivity” and help with responsible decision-making because they provide recipients the freedom to make their own decisions,” the study says. Finally, when given a large amount of money, rather than small monthly increments, people were “more likely to increase spending on durables, psychological well-being and female empowerment.”

All of these insights make for a compelling message. People struggling with homelessness have enough barriers to overcome. Let’s not let unnecessary mistrust be one of them. Both our policies and our own personal judgments need to adapt if we really want to address this huge issue. Compassion sometimes takes the form of cold, hard cash.