Anti-homeless cages installed around benches in French city on Christmas Eve

Wire grid has been placed around a public bench to prevent homeless from drinking alcohol and sleeping on it, on December 25, 2014 in Angouleme, southwestern France (AFP Photo / Pierre Duffour)
The right-wing city council of Angouleme in southwest France has come under fire for banishing homeless people from its city center, after it installed cages that completely cover benches used by local hobos.

The municipal deputy responsible for security, Joel Guitton, told AFP that the benches were “almost exclusively used by people who consume alcohol on a regular basis,” and claimed the decision was taken in concert with local traders, who complained that threatening behavior was driving away customers.

Regional daily Sud Ouest alleged that the Champ de Mars had become a scene of regular fights between the homeless, often provoked by drugs and involving dogs.

But social media users say the unusual severity of the measure shows that local authorities “lack empathy.” and have called for protests, and even unsanctioned demolitions of the cages. Earlier this year, the city of 40,000 people elected Xavier Bonnefont, an ambitious 34-year-old whose rise has already earned comparisons to the career of Nicolas Sarkozy – who himself came to prominence as a young mayor of a small community.

“What a shame, this is not France,” declared Guillaume Garot, a former Socialist MP and Bonnefont’s political opponent.

Guitton insists that the timing of the cage erection – just hours before Christmas Eve – is a “pure coincidence.” The veteran deputy also says that it is not aimed at “robbing the homeless of dignity,” stating that it is simply part of a wider raft of measures designed to make the city safer. Others include heavier policing and the installation of CCTV cameras in prominent public places.

A sign reads "Does this ring you any bells ? Let's get angy" as wire grid has been placed around a public bench to prevent homeless from drinking alcohol and sleeping on it, on December 25, 2014 in Angouleme, southwestern France (AFP Photo / Pierre Duffour)

Later, local authorities backed down against charges of over-zealousness, telling local newspaper Charente Liberte that the cages are a “glitch,” and may be replaced with another measure. They added that they have no plans to abandon their security reforms.

Meanwhile, the homeless have decamped to unprotected benches, located just yards away.

Anti-homeless measures have become a microcosm of wider political and social debates, with London Mayor Boris Johnson being dragged into a similar controversy earlier this year. A luxury development in Southwark installed anti-tramp spikes near the entrance, prompting the Conservative mayor to intervene and demand their removal.

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Other common anti-homeless devices include cages near hot air vents and devices that emit an unpleasant high-pitched noise, as well as benches built at an angle, or with railing down the middle, to prevent the homeless from sleeping on them.

Last summer, a Vancouver charity turned the idea on its head, when it placed wooden boxes on city benches, which would allow a homeless person to build a three-sided shelter out of a park bench. However, not all residents were supportive of the reconversion.