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No place to lay my head

“These anti-homeless spikes are brutal. We need to get rid of them”, writes Leah Borromeo in the Guardian.

So we decided to do something to neutralise it. A group of friends and I laid a mattress and a bookshelf stocked with tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty atop some particularly vicious spikes on London’s Curtain Road. In the 1990s, it was the epicentre of a burgeoning artistic community that would eventually emerge as tastemakers in the visual and performing arts. We’re all aware that an artistic scene that gains any sort of appeal or traction is eventually leeched on, Death-Eater-like, by “property developers”. We saw these spikes as a direct assault on everything that makes us human. Anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home, no friends, no support. Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.

If some developers had their way, they’d commodify oxygen. To stop us having a society where it is acceptable to do that, we’ve decided to help out the best way we know how. We’re a loose collective of artists, journalists, academics, graduates and performers. We’re cultural producers. And with that comes the responsibility that what we make and share with the world highlights injustice and offers alternatives.

Many comments ask whether Ms Borromeo, a journalist and filmmaker, has made her own doorstep – or her own bedroom – available to the homeless. It is an obvious question. This does not stop it being a good one. I would imagine her own bookshelves are well stocked with “tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty”, so she could offer the free use of these as an additional incentive to make her own property a “more inclusive space where misfortunes of circumstance such as homelessness aren’t banned.”

On the other hand the capitalist vipers who own the Curtain Road premises probably regard the reading material left on their doorstep by Ms Borromeo and her preening chums (“The only good thing about living in austerity Britain is that through pushing us into a corner, the government and the money that controls it is unwittingly training up a generation of fighters. Some of us will kick and scream. Others will be by the ringside healing the wounded”) as a more effective deterrent than the spikes.

OK, this woman is a poseur. She isn’t a healer of the wounded, she just plays one in her own mind. I would give her a little more respect if I learned that her good deeds to the homeless included volunteering at homeless shelters or accompanying those charity workers and street pastors who make the rounds of those places where rough sleepers go every night. Or if I thought that she had spent even a moment thinking about the plight of the shop owner who sees her sales plummet because customers don’t want to push past the dosser on the floor to enter, or the premises manager who has to clean up the urine and needles every morning.

Yet it is possible to acknowledge the right of those put up these spikes to do so, and also have sympathy with the homeless. Ms Borromeo’s statement that “anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home” is the usual hyperbole (she need not worry about the chances of it happening to her), but it is true that things can go wrong for a person with surprising speed. There is probably at least one of your classmates from primary school who has lost everything, usually via drugs or alcohol. There are ways to help, but all of them have downsides. Homeless shelters, whether run by true charities or government funded, must themselves exclude some people. I would not be surprised or angered to learn that they make use of “access control” spikes themselves. If the shelters don’t exclude anyone – if they allow people to sleep there who are violent or predatory – then they destroy their own function as a refuge. The one sentence in Ms Borromeo’s article that rang true was “Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.”

28 comments to No place to lay my head

  • Paul Marks

    As Natalie says – this lady and her friends have no respect for the property of others, but they would not accept the homeless into their own property.

    This lady would not share her property with the homeless and, till she does, she is a hypocrite in condemning people who protect their property with spikes.

    As for the high price of property in London.

    I do not remember her “loose collective” campaigning against the planning laws, or against the “low interest rate” (i.e. credit bubble) policy of the Bank of England.

  • Mr Ed

    This needs a change in the law, urgently. The only one that comes to mind it letting commercial landlords use sanctimonious prigs who are trespassing for bayonet practice. There must be a better way to solve this…

  • Fred Z

    “or the premises manager who has to clean up the urine and needles every morning”

    That’s me. I own a nice rental property in a part of town getting upgraded.

    And I’m grateful when urine and needles are all I find. Bums, I mean the sainted and holy homeless, do not have good digestions, nor are they toilet trained.

  • CaptDMO

    “OK, this woman is a poseur. She isn’t a healer of the wounded, she just plays one in her own mind.”
    Well, duh.
    SEE:”We’re a loose collective of artists, journalists, academics, graduates and performers. We’re cultural producers.”
    No, you are the rent seekers, free riders, and parasites.
    Illegitimate bastard “credentials” don’t change that.

  • pst314

    “Defensive architecture says that people, regardless of whether they have homes or not, are not welcome. Putting spikes up like this doesn’t address the issues of inequality and poverty – it just pushes them away from your immediate vision so that you don’t have to look at them.”

    She is, of course, lying. She knows perfectly well that “defensive architecture” is not built to drive away well-bathed and well-behaved people.

  • pst314

    An experiment: Pay “homeless” people to use author Leah Borromeo’s property as a dumping ground for garbage, urine, excrement and used needles. See how she reacts.

  • staghounds

    If I find out where she lives, I’ll go sleep there. Interesting experiment.

  • mike

    I know the type well. As a postgrad in Edinburgh, one of my part-time jobs was in a local church where I was weekend caretaker. The church was a large building and had a lot of rooms over three floors which were rented out to various charities and other organizations for various purposes. There was, for example, a room rented out on a long-term basis to a woman who ran her own pro-Palestinian charity. Other rooms were rented out to other, similarly Lefty groups. My job was to support all of these people with their various needs, whilst also looking after the church and making sure Sunday service went off without a hitch. As such I had to endure a lot of claptrap about looking after the poor and homeless and so forth, whilst simultaneously being on the lookout to politely intercept and eject the odd homeless case who would wander in off the streets from time to time.

    Things inevitably got worse during the Festival in the summer as I had a lot more chores to do than usual and I obviously could not be in two places at once. Having to clean up the toilets downstairs inevitably meant taking the needle cannister with me, and another one for broken glass bottles and a mop and bucket full of hot water and bleach.

    I vividly recall one Saturday morning with a sanctuary full of elderly folk who’d come to see their young grandchildren play in a small orchestra, two homeless men wandered in off the street, looking and smelling like landfill and one of them demanding to see the Reverend, the other demanding a cup of tea and then thinking he could just wander into the sanctuary to bother the grannies whilst the orchestra was setting up. Going in there to lasso him as politely and quietly as I could and usher him back out again got him shouting and screaming in my face in front of a few hundred people. I bit my tongue and got him out. So I haven’t got the slightest patience for people who like to pose about helping the homeless, but who haven’t had to deal with the unpleasant aspects of dealing with homeless and mentally ill people.

    It’s a shit job.

    Mind you, one or two of the girls working for those charities (that the church would rent out rooms to) were fit and I did manage to get my leg over once or twice, so that just about made up for it.

  • Runcie Balspune

    If some developers had their way, they’d commodify oxygen

    If writers have their way, they’d be making money on plays about the commodification of oxygen.

  • neal

    If only eugenics did not get off target, then the comfortable could kill everything that did not fit.
    Maybe keep a few around for entertainment. Of course, the religous would need to be on board.

    That whole empathy for the meek meme should just not exist. Nail that down for a better view.

    My goodness, that just looks reasonable. Money, investments. Maybe drive off angels, and let that sort itself out. Best to indentify any threats to the world of money before any bother.

    Maybe use fire, or just drown them before they have any chance.
    Mercy kills. Not that angers the gods. Brave souls.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The great majority of the “homeless” are mentally ill and/or dope-addled. The Left’s main contribution to this problem is to obstruct the confinement of even the clearly demented.

    Their other contribution is to promote drug-taking, which remains highly fashionable among the trendy

  • Laird

    All those “tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty” could be quite profitably put to use as a heat source for the homeless on cold nights. I can certainly see no other or higher purpose for them.

    Frankly, I couldn’t make any sense of that odd, rambling post by neal. Was there a point in there somewhere?

  • Eric

    I think he wants us to follow in the footsteps of famous leftists.

  • Chip

    I’ve sporadically followed a housing blog in Canada for years and it’s been interesting to watch one poster go from disgruntled renter who saw a lot of good in communism to home owner who gleefully rejoices at every jump in prices.

    Vested interest is really just philosophy without the pretension.

  • >She knows perfectly well that “defensive architecture” is not built to drive away well-bathed and well-behaved people.

    Quite. The number of places where wall-bathed and polite poor people are not welcome is actually quite small.

  • diogenese2

    There is a wonderful irony in the phrase “these anti-homeless spikes are brutal”
    The “Spike” was the casual ward in the workhouse set up under the Vagrancy Act of 1824 and the Poor Law Amendment Act 0f 1834.
    Nobody could reside there more than three nights before moving, on foot, to another spike – hence the name “Tramp”. See George Orwell “Down and Out in Paris and London”.
    They were brutal being required to be “worse than the conditions of the lowest farm labourer”. Laws governing vagrancy date back to the sixth century, the 1597 Act helpfully contains a catalogue of types.
    “labourers without means refusing to work for current rates of wages” seems very contemporary and I suppose “wandering scholars seeking alms” could well apply to Ms Borromeo and her peers.
    One spike is preserved at Guildford.

  • Deep Lurker

    Rich Rostrom:

    Locking someone up, even if – especially if – they are “clearly demented” and “it’s for their own good” needs to be difficult. It needs to be approached with caution and humility, and those doing it need to show, clearly and credibly, that it really is necessary and appropriate, and not an excuse for abuse of power.

    And this applies equally to police and prosecutors, to child protective services, and to the mental health system. Agents of the State should not get a free pass when it comes to locking up people simply because they claim to have the best interests of their captives at heart.

  • Cal

    >She isn’t a healer of the wounded, she just plays one in her own mind

    Is that from somewhere, or is it your own, Natalie? It’s a good phrase.

    And yeah, I remember Ben Elton’s rubbish play from all those years ago. Even though I was more of lefty in those days it was still pretty embarrassing.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Cal, it was a sort of parody of “I’m not a doctor I just play one on TV”, which I believe originally came from some commercial or other but became a general catchphrase.

  • pst314

    Deep Lurker “Locking someone up, even if – especially if – they are ‘clearly demented’ and ‘it’s for their own good’ needs to be difficult.”

    I’m not sure why you think “especially if they are clearly demented”, but you may not be aware that the situation has gotten pretty bad in the United States. In San Francisco, as an extreme example, left-wing lawyers have made it virtually impossible for the police to deal effectively with violently aggressive and insane bums who harass pedestrians. I don’t know what the situation is in the UK.

  • Rich Rostrom

    What pst314 said.

    Clayton Cramer, the well-known gun-rights advocate, had a brother who was insane. He’s written a book about his brother and the engineered failure of the judicial system to deal with the insane. He also notes that most of the “mass shooting” incidents of recent years were perpetrated by clearly insane people who could not be restrained or confined due to the obstructions established by primarily left-wing activists.

  • Ljh

    Deep Lurker: would you care to research the number of people slain by the mentally ill who have gone off their meds, whose social and psychiatric workers have previously been alerted/implored to assist, but who have been allowed to continue free range while expressing delusions and violent fantasies? We should start charging those who failed to act.

  • pst314

    In the early 1950’s my mother had some very frightening encounters with an insane young man who would sneak into the private areas of the institution she worked at. Because it was the 1950’s he was locked up. If it had been after the “liberation” of the insane, she might have been killed.

  • Deep Lurker

    How many people are you willing to lock up in order to get the ones who are actually dangerous? The fact that you can point to Type II errors doesn’t mean that there aren’t also lots of Type I errors.

    I’m aware of Clayton Cramer’s arguments, and I disagree with them. In fact, I think he’s playing with fire: If the reforms he wants were to go through, it would be all too easy to have him locked up and forcibly medicated for being a weapons-obsessed paranoid homophobe. (For another example, look at how Dinesh D’Souza is being forced to undergo therapy for the dangerous delusion of being a conservative.)

    “Better to let ten dangerous criminals go free than to wrongly convict an innocent man,” applies to dangerous madmen as well. I’ll agree that the current situation is not at all good, but simply giving the State more authority to lock people up is not a solution.

  • If only eugenics did not get off target

    Nah, far too leftie a thing to get much traction around here. You must have mistaken us for people who admire John Maynard Keynes or Fabian socialists like George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells

    then the comfortable could kill everything that did not fit.

    Nah. Just put up a fence.

    That whole empathy for the meek meme should just not exist

    You must be very very poor as I assume you have given all your money to those meek homeless. And why are you spending valuable time commenting here when you could be demonstrating your empathy by helping those poor homeless meek people? Have you no shame?

  • pst314

    “How many people are you willing to lock up in order to get the ones who are actually dangerous?”

    How about we start with the most aggressive ones? You say that the State should not have more authority to lock up people, and yet it is virtually impossible today to lock up even the ones who threaten and assault people.

    I repeat: In San Francisco the bums know that they can get away with physically threatening people because there are leftist lawyers who, like you, think that it should be virtually impossible to lock up the dangerously insane.

  • pst314

    On a much less dangerous note, it is risky to use upholstered chairs in some libraries, lest one get fleas and other tiny livestock brought in by the “homeless” who camp out to sleep or even watch porn. And yet it would be a “human rights violation” to kick out people who are clearly not using the library for its intended purpose.

  • pst314

    I’d like to know how DeepLurker would suggest that these bums be dealt with:


    ‘Urination, defecation, and masturbation’ outside NYC college

    By Kevin Fasick and Beckie Strum

    July 30, 2015 | 11:55pm

    The scene outside a Cooper Union building in the East Village. Photo: Natan Dvir

    The glass facade of Cooper Union’s $111 million academic building offers a remarkable view — of a back alley packed with vagrants.

    I have seen drug deals, public urination, defecation, masturbation in broad daylight in the Taras Shevchenko alley,” a Cooper Union faculty member told The Post.

    “It’s a place where many homeless congregate to sleep — right in front of a church and between a high school and a college,” the faculty member added.

    Photo: Natan Dvir
    Students, visitors to the East Village building’s multiple art galleries and even small kids who attend Preschool of the Arts housed at Cooper Union are greeted daily by a motley crew of drifters who bunk down on the pavement along Taras Shevchenko Place from about sunset through the morning rush hour.

    The geometric, asymmetrical architecture of 41 Cooper Square provides the perfect cover from the elements as drifters spread out under the building’s protruding angles, cops said.

    And the web of glass that makes up its facade offers a perfect view of a parade of quality-of-life offenses.

    “These conditions are unsavory, at best — particularly when you’re looking out your window in the morning and see something like a drug deal happening. Or when you’re sitting in a classroom and someone urinates right in front of you,” said the Cooper Union professor.

    Rosa Hernandez, 48, of Park Slope, sees the group of loiterers every day as she drops her 13-year-old son off at La Salle Academy nearby.

    “I’ve seen them drinking beer in the morning,” said the mom.

    Nine of the drifters were splayed out on bits of cardboard Thursday morning, and began hurling insults, water and bits of cookie when approached by a reporter.

    “I was going to chase him down and beat the s–t out of him,” one thin, bedraggled man spat in anger.

    “If I ever see you or that photographer again, I’ll kick the s–t out of you,” he threatened.