Anger is mounting after Bournemouth Council installed metal bars on public benches – in an apparent attempt to deter homeless people from sleeping on them.
The adaptions were made on a number of benches in the town centre “following numerous complaints by members of the public and local traders,” a spokesperson for the Conservative-run authority said.
An image of one was shared on Facebook by local artist Stuart Semple, who wrote: “This latest piece of hostile design is being retrofitted on all the benches to prevent homeless sleepers. They’ll be stealing homeless people’s sleeping bags next.”
The image has been shared close to 8,000 times and hundreds of people have expressed their dismay.
Lynn Giselle Cope wrote: “Despicable! The government and councils have systematically failed with housing policy for decades. This failure is the reason for the crisis of homelessness!”
“Instead of wasting money putting these on the benches to prevent and stop rough sleepers, help them out by using the money to get them off the street in the first place,” added Dan Colborn.
On Instagram, British rapper Professor Green asked: “What’s the message here?
″‘Hey you poor sods with no safety net - you better really hope life doesn’t throw any shit at you now! And god forbid you make a bad life decision! Cause you won’t have the ‘comfort’ of this bench to sleep on!’ Ha!
“Again, nothing done to tackle the problem, just something to make it more invisible so we can pretend it isn’t happening.”
Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, told HuffPost UK: “There are far more humane ways to solve rough sleeping than putting up barriers. This short-sighted response will only add to the stigma surrounding homelessness at a time when we need communities to pull-together and tackle this growing problem.
“Rather than driving people with nowhere to go out of sight, we should be redoubling our efforts to get rough sleepers - particularly those under-25 - into accommodation where they have a place to live at a time of crisis, and also the support needed to ultimately find a long-term job and a home.
“Councils installing hostile architecture should think hard about whether this is the message they really want to be projecting in our towns and cities in the 21st century.”
Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs for homelessness charity Crisis, said: “The use of hostile architecture and other anti-homeless measures is a sad indictment of how we treat the most vulnerable people in our society.
“Rough sleeping is devastating enough without homeless people having to endure such hostility in their communities.
“Rather than perpetuating people’s homelessness, we need to address the root causes of rough sleeping to end it once and for all. We have evidence to show how the situation could be turned around, now is the time to act.”
Official figures show there were 4,751 people counted or estimated to be sleeping rough in autumn 2017, a 15% rise on the year before and more than double the figure recorded five years ago.
On Sunday Jeremy Corbyn promised to provide 8,000 homes to solve the growing homelessness crisis in Britain if Labour wins power.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the Labour leader said the scale of homelessness in the UK was “disgusting” and “wholly unnecessary”.
He vowed to fix the issue by striking a deal with housing associations so that homes would become available immediately to rough sleepers when they fell vacant.
He said the Labour government would then fund the replacements.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said there were “a number of different reasons” rough sleeping had risen, including mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems.
He said: “We have pledged to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027.”
A Bournemouth Council spokesman said: “The complaints related to a number of benches being unavailable to members of the public throughout the day due to people lying on them during the daytime.”
The council provides 150 hostel bed spaces for homeless people and funds the St Mungo’s rough sleeper assertive outreach team.
She added: “As a council, we need to maintain a careful balance between our responsibility to the wider public to ensure that amenities are available to them, and our duty of care to vulnerable members of our community, including people rough sleeping.”