Photos by Tom Johnson
The war against London's "anti-homeless" spikes escalated today from sign-waving to radical criminal action. In the small hours of the morning, some activists dressed as construction workers poured concrete over the metal spikes outside a Tesco Metro supermarket on London's Regents Street, and then vowed to strike again.
A "Homes Not Spikes" demonstration organized by Left Unity is taking place at the store later today. I was tipped off last night that some kind of protest would be happening early this morning, so I went along to check it out for myself.
Walking through London's West End on the way there, it was clear to see why this issue has touched a nerve. There were plenty of homeless people around, using shop doorways for shelter—and the more private businesses install metal studs in those doorways, the fewer sheltered places there are to sleep.
Some have said that the spikes are a good thing, because rough sleeping is dangerous and needs to be discouraged. The problem there is that sleeping on the street generally isn't something people choose to do—so maybe the best way of discouraging it is by asking the government to stop gearing policy towards housing for the rich, rather than making an already uncomfortable situation even worse.
I hung around outside the Tesco for a while, and before long some guys in fluorescent work clothes appeared.
They were all carrying buckets, which I soon found out were full of concrete. Tipping the containers all over the spikes, the stuff inside landed with a messy thud on the ledge. The activists then tried to spread the concrete out with some wooden slats, but it looked a little thick and wasn't really budging.
When they dashed down a side street, I caught up and asked one what exactly they were doing. They explained that they were trying to drown the spikes in concrete, rendering the ledge non-spikey. “These [spikes] are in places where people are trying to find a cosy, less wet place to put their head down,” one said. “These are places that the underclass rely on. We give [Tesco] our money, and this is how they treat us.”
“Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable people in society with the government's austerity program,” added another activist. “They’ve cut shelters' funding. Crisis are in crisis. There’s more people on the street, more people using food banks—and you have businesses installing anti-homeless spikes. It’s a really degrading way to treat human beings.”
After our chat, they prepared themselves for a second round. This time they poured concrete mix directly out of a bag, then mixed it with the water al fresco. This mostly resulted in a powdery mess and a load of concrete-y water running down the pavement.
I pointed out that what they were doing to the spikes was illegal vandalism. “We don’t really care, to be honest. If any others pop up, anywhere in London, we’re going to do the same thing to them.”
“Others are going to get hit as well. It’s going to be the same way—they’re going to get hit.”
With that, they walked off with their buckets in tow.
Homeless people of London, your shitty new mattress awaits.
Tesco has insisted that the spikes aren’t there to deter rough sleepers—they claim they're actually there to stop people sitting on the ledge to smoke and drink, which puts off customers. Unfortunately for the supermarket, I'd say their storefront now looks even less appealing than it did before.