Concrete balls blocking alcoves no solution to homelessness, says advocate

Large concrete spheres that have been installed in the alcoves of several retail buildings on Robson and Hamilton streets in downtown Vancouver are raising concerns with one homeless advocate.

Retired homeless advocate calls the barriers cruel, calls on city to build to more adequate housing

The morning after the concrete spheres were installed a homeless person was spotted sleeping directly in the doorway. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Large concrete spheres installed in the alcoves of several retail buildings on Robson and Hamilton streets in downtown Vancouver are raising concerns with one homeless advocate. 

"They're placed there to keep homeless people from sitting or lying down and essentially they are quite cruel," said Judy Graves, a retired homeless advocate.

The property management company that oversees 819 Hamilton Street said it takes direction from the stata council when it comes to decisions about the building and would not be able to comment on the installation.

But the owner of one business in the building said the concrete spheres were placed specifically to dissuade people from sleeping in the alcoves overnight.

These concrete balls were installed in the nooks of retail stores where homeless people often set up shop overnight. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

"I'm glad that the management company tried to solve the problem ... they listened to all the residents," said Peter Lee of Gelato Express.

Lee, who recently installed more CCTV cameras that face the front of the store to increase safety, said the mess left behind by those sleeping in the alcoves is not appealing to customers and he often worries about the safety of his staff.

"The safety of the building as well, there is a lot of glasses here, in case it breaks, it will create big mess," he said.

From January 27 to February 27, the VPD received six calls for reports of loitering on Robson Street between Hamilton and Homer, and two reports of theft.  

Several concrete balls were placed along retail plazas. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

"There are days where I have come into work and clean up a bunch of newspaper. I've even had ripped up adult magazines, and so sometimes you wonder what you're picking up," said Nadira Schultz, who works at a nail salon, which has been boarded up after an attempted break and entry last week. 

The nail salon was boarded up after attempted break and entry last week. An employee said witnesses called 911 after they saw a homeless drunk man allegedly kick in the door and try to break in. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Graves said these "creative solutions" are nothing new, noting spikes, gates and flower pots have long been used in the past to keep people from lying down. 

"Nobody is more frustrated than the people that need to sleep outside," she said. "If we are giving approval to businesses to open and displace people, then they should be part of the solution," she said. 

Business owners say homeless people often sleep outside of their store. They say they often have to clean up after them. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Graves said the right move is to build more adequate housing.

While business owners are glad the management company is doing something to address the issue, there are doubts on how effective these spherical structures will actually be. 

"Hopefully it works, but they might sit on it," said Lee. "The management company is trying to help our safety, but the homeless problem should be solved by the government." 

About the Author

Tina Lovgreen

Video Journalist

Tina is a Video Journalist with CBC Vancouver. Send her an email at tina.lovgreen@cbc.ca