Anti-homeless measures in outdoor spaces becoming a growing concern,
A bar structure preventing homeless people from sleeping on top of a vent outside Toronto General Hospital is the latest example of a growing phenomenon dubbed “hostile architecture,” anti-homelessness advocates say.
From armrests on benches to studs on concrete, such designs prevent people from using the space in a way other than its intended use. That includes homeless people seeking a safe place to spend the night. In a statement released Wednesday, Dr. Charlie Chan, interim president and CEO of the University Health Network said the grate was removed after staff raised concerns that it wasn’t something a hospital should have installed.
It’s far from the first time hostile architecture has provoked ire. Installations in Montreal and London, England, as well as a planter on a downtown Toronto sidewalk have also made headlines.
Cathy Crowe, a Toronto street nurse and long-time advocate for the homeless, documents instances of hostile architecture she said she encounters around the city. She said it is “everywhere.”
“There’s hardly ever a park bench that’s developed nowadays that doesn’t have bars in it,” Crowe said.
Patricia Anderson, manager of Shelter, Support and Housing Administration for Toronto, told the Star that the City doesn’t have structures that deliberately prevent homeless people from sleeping outside.
Growing instances of hostile architecture across Canada have raised the question of what responsibility — if any — institutions have to the people sleeping, loitering and panhandling on their property.
Stephen Hwang, a Toronto physician and researcher, said he thinks “there is no obligation that institutions have to allow people to sleep on their private property.
“But certainly to think that, as a matter of wanting to have a civil and caring society, we don’t want to essentially force people out of places where they are sleeping out of necessity,” Hwang said.
In the past, authorities would remove people that were sleeping or loitering, said Cara Chellew, a research administrator for the Global Suburbanisms Project at York University.
“But now, we’re using the built environment to do these controversial tasks.”
The hospital grate was installed to prevent the collection of garbage and used needles nearby, UHN spokesperson Gillian Howard said.
“I think our obligation is to provide care for people who seek care and access to that care is through the emergency department,” Howard said.
“We definitely see that as a responsibility. The issue of solving someone’s homelessness is a much bigger issue than the hospital can solve. We’re a part of it, but it really is going to take a much more concerted effort on the part of the city and other agencies.”
The grate was installed to prevent the collection of garbage and used needles nearby, UHN says