Early in the morning on June 12, a few members of a group known as the London Black Revolutionaries showed up in front of a Tesco shopping center on Regent Street in London and covered the store's "anti-homeless spikes" with home-made cement.
"We want homes not spikes."
A few days before the stunt, the spikes generated a firestorm of public criticism of the retail giant. The criticism largely took place online and centered around a series of photos of the spikes taken in October 2013 by photojournalist Joshua Preston.
The spikes were intended to deter "antisocial behavior," Tesco told The Guardian in response to the criticism. But Londoners were having none of that.
"We want homes not spikes," Preston said in a press release from the People's Assembly Against Austerity, an organization that campaigns against austerity policies—such as cuts to pensions and public spending. "We will show Tesco that its decision to victimize the homeless is shameful."
Interest in the issue grew quickly. When Preston organized a Facebook event to protest the spikes, more than 600 people agreed to demonstrate. The event was planned to coincide with a national anti-austerity protest in London on June 21.
But the Revolutionaries got to Tesco first, and their slap-dash cement-laying did the trick: Less than 24 hours after the stunt, Tesco removed the spikes from the Regent Street store, saying "We will find a different solution."
Homelessness has increased for three consecutive years
If the issue of spikes outside of Tesco hit a nerve, it could be because rates of homelessness in England have been steadily rising. And, according to The Guardian, austerity measures are at least partly to blame:
Homelessness has increased for three consecutive years, partly because of housing shortages and cuts to benefits, with an estimated 185,000 people a year now affected in England.
The actual number of people experiencing homelessness may be significantly higher than that. Research from the charity group Crisis suggests that about 62 percent of single homeless people may not show up in official figures.
One anonymous member of the London Black Revolutionaries offered Tesco a few spike-free ways to address homelessness.
"Give money to a local shelter organization, a food kitchen, or a food bank, because that's what's going to help," he told Vice News. "It's not going to solve the problem of homelessness, but it's going to alleviate some of the pain and suffering in these people's lives."
The Revolutionaries also said they will target other businesses in London that decide to install the spikes.