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Repelling The Homeless

Despite the recent uproar over the installation of 'anti-homeless' spikes located in cities in the UK and Canada, concrete or metal spikes are only the tip of the iceberg in a disturbing trend of innovative techniques designed to 'repel' the homeless.

Once the photos of 'anti-homeless spikes' began circulating on Twitter, the outrage was fuelled with each successive favourite and retweet. The styles of the anti-homeless 'spikes' varied from photo to photo, ranging from pointed pieces of concrete to spiked pieces of metal protruding dangerously from the ground.

Illustration for article titled Repelling The Homeless

People quickly began taking notice of other forms of 'anti-homeless' architecture throughout various cities, such as benches and public seating; all designed with the clear intent of making it difficult or near impossible to lay, sleep or comfortably rest for any extended period of time.

Illustration for article titled Repelling The Homeless
Illustration for article titled Repelling The Homeless

But what other measures have been taken with the intention of deterring or reducing the incidence of homeless people seeking shelter in what has been deemed a so called 'undesirable space'?

One measure that has been employed in parks and green spaces is the use of water sprinkler systems to deter the homeless from gathering or sleeping in a given area. Set to go off at random, or varied times throughout the day and night helps ensure that anyone sleeping in the area won't be staying there for too long.

The use of water sprinklers for deterring homeless people caused outrage in 2013, when a bookstore in NYC was accused of using sprinklers their sprinkler system for that very purpose. The manager of course "denied the sprinklers were used to drive away the homeless, saying they were there to clean the sidewalk [...]."

A little water doesn't seem so bad and when compared to the tactics previously taken by other cities and businesses...

In 2004, Deputies in Richland County decided they had quite enough of the homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes that had been disturbing neighbourhoods by using and seeking shelter in condemned buildings. They opted for a new approach using something called 'Skunk Shot', which "contains synthetic skunk oil in a gel like substance and was originally intend as a cat and dog repellent."

Illustration for article titled Repelling The Homeless

Richland County sheriff's Cpl. Danny Brown does the dirty work of spreading the obnoxious smell throughout buildings at the owners request, in an attempt to curb loitering or the seeking of shelter.

"It's probably the worst thing I've even smelled," Cpl. Brown said."

'Skunk Shot' isn't the only obnoxious odour that has been used with the intent of repelling the homeless, either.

In 2012, Bylaw enforcement officials in Surrey, B.C. decided to take action after a slew of community complaints about the homeless. Officials took to the streets and began lining "a vacant lot next to a homeless shelter with poultry excrement in order to discourage a rowdy lot of vagrants and miscreants from hanging out there."

Despite the claims of the chicken excrements efficacy, it was met with outrage. Not long after it was laid, the acting Mayor ordered city crews to clean up the area and made his disapproval clear. He stated "it was an unacceptable, draconian approach. These are people in our community [the homeless] who need support, and this does not treat people with dignity."

Smell isn't the only sense being assaulted in the bid to repel the homeless. Some businesses have taken to using sound in attempts to control the loitering and homeless seeking shelter.

In 2010, a TD Canada Trust ATM in Toronto was equipped with what was being called a 'vagrant deterrent system', designed for the purpose of repelling homeless people looking to take shelter inside of the ATM booth. The homeless weren't the only people the "ear-splitting, high-pitched noise" was driving away. Local residents began to develop a hatred for the noise themselves, with one resident calling it a "nuisance to the neighbourhood."

Another assault on the ears comes courtesy of Moving Sound Technologies, which employs their patented product to reduce the incidence of homeless loitering in a very specific age group. The product, known as 'The Mosquito' is a "small speaker that produces a high frequency sound much like the buzzing of the insect it's named after. This high frequency can be heard by young people 13-25 years old."

What can be done about the older crowd who would be immune to this specific frequency? No need to worry, as the company has also developed a Mosquito that targets and deters all age groups!

"The latest version of hedge Mosquito is called the MK4 Multi-Age. It has two different settings; one for teenagers and one setting for all ages. When it is set to 17KHz the Mosquito can only be heard by teenagers approximately 13-25 years of age. When set to 8KHz The Mosquito can be heard by all ages."


The Mosquito comes in yet another version, except this version emits noises that have been used by libraries, police and businesses in the bid to repel the homeless and other loitering groups for quite some time. Sadly, that repellant noise just happens to be classical music.

Classical music has been employed in many different areas in the hopes that it will curb the incidence of homeless loitering in a given space, as well as reduce the incidence of teenagers loitering. Whether you believe it to be effective or not, there are places that have noted a reduction in undesirable types of behaviour after the installation of speakers emitting classical music.

There are no studies to confirm this is true, and many argue that the classical music itself has nothing to do with the reduction in loitering and homeless persons; rather it is a result of improvements to the area such as speakers, music, increased lighting, and police presence.

The use of classical music certainly is not without criticisms either.

"Indeed, playing classical music to clear out public spaces is an act of supreme elitism: an attempt to 'civilize' a space by making it unpleasant to people who tastes differ from your own."


The saddest things about all of these tactics? Not a single one truly addresses the cause of the issue, or does anything to actually decrease the problem of homelessness.

They simply serve to increase stigma, and force the issue further out of sight and out of mind...

Originally appeared on

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