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Anti-Homeless Benches Are Sparking Outrage in the UK

A subtle new feature of the Bournemouth, UK, cityscape has sparked a nationwide analysis of how cities and towns treat their vulnerable homeless residents.

When the Bournemouth Borough Council decided to install bars across the middle of park benches throughout the city, they didn’t intend them as armrests. Instead, the town bolted curved, metal rods to the benches to prevent homeless people from sleeping there.

It’s a decision that doesn’t sit well with advocates for the homeless and other Bournemouth residents who say the bars reflect their town’s “hostile design.

Take action: Help the Most Marginalized and Vulnerable Find Shelter

“The second I saw it I knew exactly what it meant and I was really shocked and quite angry to see it in my hometown,” artist Stuart Semple told The Independent. “I really don’t think we should be making those kind of statements in our towns and cities, we should be making inclusive places. Everybody is welcome.”

Once Semple’s photos of the new bench accessories went viral in the UK on Saturday, they inspired an impassioned defense of the homeless and a condemnation of a municipal government unable or unwilling to support the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Read More: In 2017, Violence and Injustice Killed at Least 188 Homeless New Yorkers

“All it is doing is putting a sticking plaster over the wound,” said Claire Matthews, who operates a soup kitchen for Bouremouth’s low-income residents. “If [the council would] stop and think and look at what they are doing and help the homeless off the streets, they would not need all this.”

“Why can’t they actually put the money into helping the homeless,” Matthews continued.

In response to the outcry, the Council said it provides 150 shelter beds for homeless individuals and funds outreach teams to connect with the street homeless.

Around the world, the homelessness crisis continues to grow as housing costs increase, incomes stagnate and climate change forces people to find new places to live.

For example, the number of homeless people in France increased by nearly 50% between 2001 and 2012 while in Germany, the total homeless population rose by 35% between 2012 and 2014. In Australia, roughly 105,000 people — or one in 200 residents —are homeless.

In New York City, 60,903 people stayed in municipal homeless shelters on Tuesday, one of the highest totals ever recorded in a city mired in a historic homeless crisis.

Advocates for the homeless propose various solutions to ensure all people have safe, stable housing. These include funding more supportive housing units, providing better mental health treatment, and championing the Housing First model, which would provide housing to all people regardless of their mental health needs or substance use issues.

Read More: Russell Brand Wants to Help Homeless as a Wedding Gift to Harry & Meghan

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals including goal number 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, which advocates for “access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services.” You can take action here.

After his photos went viral across the UK, Semple accompanied a journalist from a local Bournemouth newspaper around the town to highlight other sneaky features of the urban landscape designed to prevent sitting or sleeping. The sites included angular, uncomfortable bus stop seats and knobs and spikes camouflaged atop ledges.

“The whole thing of the campaign is to open people’s eyes to spotting what is actually going on where we live,” Semple told the Bournemouth Echo. “You walk past it a million times and don’t see. Then it’s everywhere.”