Why Do Cities Hate The Homeless?

A deep dive into Anti-Homeless / Hostile Architecture

What is Anti-Homeless Architecture?

Hostile architecture, known as anti-homeless architecture is a form of architectural design to prevent or impede crime and help maintain order. It is a trend in urban design that discourages the use of spaces in any way other than the intention of the owner or designer. This has existed all over the world in various ways, but the most harmful examples have come in the way of targeting the homeless community, an already marginalized group, many who look for a place to sleep or rest throughout the day. 

Examples of Anti-Homeless Architecture

Under-bridge spikes in Guangzhou, China
Residents have said that in the past, many people, including the homeless, used to gather under this bridge (the Huangshi highway) for shelter. However, through erecting these sharp concrete spikes, it effectively prevents the homeless from using this space for shelter, forcing them to move out.
Sectioned benches in England
Shelter England have estimated that approximately one in 200 people are homeless in England.
Rather than finding ways and pushing for policies to help the homeless, many areas in England have instead installed metal bars on the benches to section the seats or to serve as arm rest. But what this also does is it makes sleeping on the bench impossible – unless the homeless were to squeeze themselves under the metal bars, which is uncomfortable and poses a dangerous risk for them.
Slanted benches in New York City, USA
These benches have been largely criticized due to its lack of support, hindering the ability for those who are elderly, ill, disabled to rest in a comfortable position.
This thus extends to the homeless, in which the benches are go-to spots for them to rest and seek refuge. With this, many areas attempt to combat this by making these benches as uncomfortable as possible whilst still preserving its basic purposes of providing some support, albeit unsustainably. 

The Problem with Anti-Homeless Architecture

The increase in hostile designs found in public spaces shows an increasing desire to keep the public out of public spaces. One common argument is that hostile architecture aids in crime prevention, but hostile architecture often targets the homeless and indirectly harms the elderly, disabled, or ill. In California specifically, hostile architecture has gone so far as to affect almost all members of society. The removal of benches and the use of randomly timed sprinklers (that don’t actually water anything) not only interferes with the lives of homeless people, but the communities as well. When anti-homeless architecture is seen in a public place, it creates a systematic exclusion of those who are not considered members of the public.   

The Hypocrisy of Governments who Implement Hostile Architecture

Hostile architecture is one of many attempts to criminalise rough sleeping and serves to shift the problem of homelessness onto the homeless themselves – it averts our gaze from the real problem. Cities have become better at hiding poverty than dealing with the problem head on, anti-homeless architecture merely creates an illusionary solution to homelessnes, where are the real solutions like policies to help house homelessness and closing the large disparity in income. Governments should be adopting the “Housing First” approach to homelessness, getting homeless individuals into permanent housing instead of shelter surfing and shunning them away from society’s eye. The housing instability that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered is finally exposing the severity of this long-ignored social problem and can serve as an incentive for policy changes that many advocates have pushed for. 

How does this affect homeless youths?

Homeless youth are often victims of trauma, many of whom likely left their home due to familial conflict or economic conditions.  Youths who are LGBTQ+, BIPOC, parenting, or disabled are most vulnerable to homelessness, and possible exploitation or sexual harassment.

They are also particularly vulnerable to harsh exploitation, specifically in the forms of s*xual harassment or substance abuse.  Many homeless youth also struggle with mental health problems.

On a single night in 2020, 34,210 unaccompanied youth were counted as homeless. Of those, 90 percent were between the ages of 18 to 24. The remaining 10 percent (or 3,389 unaccompanied children) were under the age of 18.  50 percent of homeless youth are unsheltered. (NAEH)

Alternatives to Anti-Homeless Architecture that ACTUALLY help the homeless

Housing First”: An evidence-based practice that is not determined upon readiness or on ‘compliance’ (i.e sobriety), instead, it is a rights-based intervention that is rooted in the philosophy that everyone deserves housing and that a decent standard of living is a precondition for recovery. The philosophy is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and shelter before attending to anything less critical e.g. getting a job. 

Investing in aftercare services: many individuals need support once they leave a shelter to ensure that they never face the same challenges again, investing in aftercare services that help individuals access affordable permanent housing and social support they will need. 

Selected prevention efforts: New research has propelled our thinking to make the goal of ending homelessness realistic however we are still missing the point of preventing homelessness from happening in the first place. Selected prevention efforts are mainly aimed at members of a particular group, such as school-based programs and anti-oppression strategies for individuals facing discrimination. It also includes programs aimed at individuals with low income.









Marinel Perez, Jeslyn, Adriana, Ester Ng, Keya Raval

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