Homelessness is a major issue in most cities, and it's not likely to go away anytime soon. As of 2016, an estimated 549,928 people in the United States experienced homelessness on an average night; over one-fifth of that number was comprised of children. It isn't limited to one geographic area, either. Cities with high homelessness rates include New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC – though you might not know it if you're fortunate enough to rent or own a place there. The methods of how cities hide homelessness are as creative as they are morally questionable.
What are some of the ways cities erase homeless people? Local governments might install spikes on the ground outside of buildings, or design garbage cans so that they can't be rummaged through. Some places go even further by banning charity organizations from feeding the homeless and arresting people for sleeping outside. Homeless individuals often adapt to these new circumstances, though many end up pushed to the very outskirts of society.
Are these policies humane? Take some time to consider how towns control homeless populations, and come to your own conclusions.
By Forcing People Into Shelters
Many cities attempt to move homeless people off the street and into designated shelters. While shelters can be a blessing for some, others want nothing to do with them, and for good reason. According to James Pirtle, who was interviewed by NPR about his experiences with homelessness, "You hear a lot of terrible things about shelters, that shelters are dangerous places, that they're full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and there's bedbugs and body lice. And yeah, unfortunately a lot of those things are true."
In order to force homeless people into shelters, some cities support drastic measures. In Pinellas County, FL, one proposal involved putting individuals who refused to be relocated into pre-trial solitary confinement until they changed their minds.
- Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY
By Putting In Coin-Operated Benches
In Yentai Park in Shandong Province, China, there's yet another thing preventing homeless people from sitting down. Coin-operated benches were originally a concept designed by a sculptor named Fabian Brunsing. He didn't mean for them to be used in real life, but China has adopted the concept.
If a person sits on one of these benches for more than a few minutes without inserting a coin, an alarm will sound, and spikes will come out. The spikes aren't sharp enough to do serious damage, but they still hurt.
- Photo: flickr / CC0
By Placing Locking Mechanisms On Garbage Cans
Homeless people sometimes rummage through the trash for food. It's not an ideal way for anyone to get a meal, but it might be their only choice. But now, many garbage cans are designed in such a way that it's difficult to get to what's inside. Locking mechanisms stop people from opening the can from the outside, and "rain hoods" make reaching in from the top just about impossible.
By Shaming Homeless People On Social Media
In 2015, a New York City police union requested that members photograph homeless people and post the images on Flickr. The practice was extremely controversial; some felt it shamed homeless people and blamed them for their situation, while others felt that it opened a desperately needed dialogue about the problem of homelessness and how to solve it.