‘Anti-Homeless’ Bench Bars to Be Scrapped After Public Outrage
Campaigners called the benches “inhumane” and “disgraceful.”
Benches featuring metal bars to stop homeless people being able to sleep on them are going to be removed, after a public campaign that branded them “inhumane” and “disgraceful.”
The council in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England, said it decided to ditch the metal bars in response to the “depth of feeling” over the issue.
More than 23,000 people signed a petition on change.org, calling for the “anti-homeless” benches to be scrapped; and this week, campaigners decorated the benches with balloons, blankets, and cushions in protest.
“The decision last summer to install the bars on a very small number of benches… was taken in response to many complaints about people lying on them throughout the day,” said Councillor Robert Lawton on Tuesday.
“However, we have listened to the extensive feedback over the last week and in light of the depth of feeling, have today reviewed the decision and agreed to have the bars removed,” he continued.
Local artist Stuart Semple first drew attention to the benches at the end of January, posting a photo of the bench that then went viral.
“All it is doing is putting a sticking plaster over the wound,” Claire Matthews, who runs a soup kitchen in Bournemouth, told the Independent last week.
“If [the council would] stop and think and look at what they are doing and help the homeless off the streets, they wouldn’t need all this. Why can’t they actually put the money into helping the homeless?”
The council responded by saying it provides 150 beds in shelters for rough sleepers, as well as funding outreach teams. It also said the rods cost £3,650 to install.
Rapper Professor Green — aka Stephen Paul Manderson — also then launched a campaign to draw further attention to the “hostile design” of the benches.
The rapper, who last year presented a BBC documentary on homelessness, went to Bournemouth with a friend, Max McMurdo, to see the benches for themselves.
“Nothing done to tackle the problem, just something to make it more invisible so we can pretend it isn’t happening,” he said, in a social media post.
The pair actually took a wrench to one of the benches to remove to rod, and replace it with a bar that allowed enough space underneath it for someone to lie down. They then put a tarpaulin over the bench, held up by the new bar, to create a pop-up shelter.
Homelessness and rough sleeping is becoming an increasingly urgent issue in England, with the number of people sleeping on the streets rising for the seventh consecutive year — reaching the highest its ever been since records began.
Figures released by the government in January showed that 4,751 people slept rough in 2017 — a 15% increase on 2016, which itself saw a 16% increase on 2015. But campaigners warned that those figures don’t capture the full scale of the problem.
“We have failed as a society when so many people are forced to sleep rough,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter. “But they are not alone, the scourge of homelessness extends far beyond our streets.”
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