Thursday, May 07, 2009

Homeless Treatment

With homelessness on the rise (I looked for statistics, but doing statistics on the homeless is difficult, and the numbers from the recession haven't come out yet, however, I'd like to point to the number of foreclosures and the tent city in Sacramento as proof), I thought I would write about an interesting and sad feature of the urban landscape. Anywhere there is a flat area of concrete you will find rocks turned on end jutting from the surface of the pad. Here you can see a very small island, barely large enough for a person, had rocks strategically placed to discourage laying down on it. 

This type of discouragement was unknown to me until I moved to San Francisco. Now, I see it all over the Bay Area, anywhere there is a slab of concrete, especially when the concrete is protected from the elements. For example, a new bike/ped overpass was installed in Sunnyvale (near my work), and sure enough where the angle of the ramp leaves the bulk of concrete foundation, they placed big rocks on end, closely spaced and jutting up in an unfriendly way. I wonder, how much did those rocks cost to install? Would it have been enough to house and feed a homeless person? Consider design, materials, and implimentation.

Maybe it is about time for us to treat our homeless like humans. I see so many people on the streets of San Francisco, and I always look them in the eye, nod, and say hello. Most of my fellow San Franciscans look forward, blankly, and act as though the homeless don't exist. Personally, I don't think it would be very hard to fall on bad luck, and end up on the street. I don't think it is a choice for most of these people, who typically have serious mental problems, many of which are caused by our own society (take the homeless veterans who account for 23% of the homeless population (!) as a prime example). 

Urban planners of the world, please stop installing these rocks in concrete, it doesn't fix the problem any more than the war on drugs has ended drug abuse. There is a deeper root to the problem that needs to be fixed first. 


Ray said...

It's a sad state of affairs
Laws against car-camping
No sleeping in park ordinances
The system is FUBAR

Matt Fate said...

It reminds me of the metal spikes that stores put up on their awnings and roofs to prevent birds from being able to land.

I think it would be poetic justice to start a company that makes cheap portable mattresses specifically designed to cushion one's body from spiky protruding rocks, and hand them out to the homeless.
A starting design for these mattresses could be a 6'x2.5'x0.75" thick plywood board with 4-6" thick foam glued onto each side. Wrap it in a tear-resistant fabric and presto. Let's just ignore the silly image of the homeless trying to schlep these things around every night. Maybe put wheels on them, to make them urban sled/sleepers.

anne said...

This is a really interesting observation. In São Paulo what they often did was either remove all benches from parks to discourage people from sleeping on them at night, or they would go in to park areas at night and hose out the "garbage", old cans, bottles, and people included. It was ridiculous! I just wish people weren't so unnecessarily AFRAID of people in need, because that is what fuels so many of these urban decisions.