Municipalities and businesses all over struggle with the question of what exactly to do with their homeless populations, but one British university may have taken the effort to clean up the streets a bit far. They’re accused of putting up cages over air vents on campus to keep the homeless from sleeping near warm spots overnight.
Cardiff University student and blogger Lewis Hopkins noticed the cages and wrote about them last week, noting that Cardiff appeared to have put them up over summer vacation. Hopkins says the sight “sickened me to the core.”
“A cold, ugly barred cage had been fixed to one of vents. [sic] I had noticed the winter before that these vents bellowed a comforting pocket of warm air, which from time to time was occupied by the homeless.”
Cardiff, Hopkins alleges, put up the cages to keep the homeless population in the area from sleeping near them for warmth. Contacting the University, he was met with a different explanation.
“As your [sic] aware this area has attracted persons who have located themselves on the vent thereby causing a great risk to their own health and safety. This has generated complaints from University staff and members of the public.”
Cardiff University’s Security Services’ explanation continued, saying that “persistent contact with the steam could be deemed as a health hazard which would leave the University in an invidious position.”
The University’s story appears to have changed recently, though. As Dazed Digital notes, Cardiff spokespersons are now saying that “any suggestion that Cardiff University erected the safety grilles to deter homeless people is wholly inaccurate and completely misleading.”
The grilles, Cardiff now claims, were put up “in the interests of health and safety,” since the vents they cover are boiler flue vents. Those vents, the University says, “can potentially produce products of combustion” like “carbon monoxide.”
Cardiff students aren’t buying it, though, describing the cages at the University as “mean-spirited.” Further, they point out that, if the gasses produced are so dangerous, it may not be the best idea to pump them into the air in areas regularly trafficked by students.
“Surely sleeping in freezing cold and soaking wet conditions during the winter,” one student wrote in response, “will cause more harm than the steam from the vent ever could.”
Cardiff’s actions appear to be in line with what some others have done to deter loitering by the homeless. In June, a pricey apartment building in London came under fire when it installed inch-high spikes in its alleys and alcoves. The spikes, similar to the kind that are used to keep pigeons off buildings, were aimed at keeping the homeless from sleeping in corners and alcoves.
The supermarket chain Tesco also installed similar spikes outside one of its locations in uptown London, drawing considerable criticism.
The anti-homeless spikes haven’t gone unnoticed, though. At the Tesco location, a number of activists dressed as a construction crew and poured concrete over the spikes to even out the surface.
There’s no word yet on if any comparable action is planned to deal with Cardiff’s anti-homeless cages.