Article published: Wednesday, September 9th 2015
The residents of the homeless camp once again appeared at the Civil Justice Courts on Monday facing eviction from the camps now situated on Oxford Road and King Street.
Manchester City Council and Manchester Metropolitan University are jointly pursuing an eviction order for the Oxford Road site. Jen Wu, a supporter of The Ark, the camp on Oxford Road, spoke in defence of those based at the camp in court: “They have been refused the right to exist on private land or public highways, where does that leave them?” Wu told the court that she believed Manchester’s homeless population was being denied their human rights.
The Ark, established on unused land beneath the Mancunian Way flyover on Oxford Road, has received much public support. A petition in support of the camp, which now boasts almost 2,000 signatures, states that the camp “provides a safe and caring refuge – protecting the city’s most vulnerable and unprotected from violence, danger and abuse”. Those based at the Ark, appalled at the council’s homelessness policy, have erected signs stating that their purpose is to “provide homes and a shelter” and that the camp is “not a protest” to avoid falling foul of the recently authorised city-wide injunction.
As the case has officially been brought against “persons unknown”, supporters – speaking in defence of the homeless – were refused any legal aid. Wesley Hall, who was speaking at the King Street camp, said it was unfair: “We have no legal representation and there are seven of them against two of us.” Both Hall and Wu told the court that they considered the two days’ notice given to them to prepare for the case was unjust. As passions flared and emotions overflowed, the judge ordered the court to be cleared to allow everyone to calm down.
During the break, Liz from Whalley Range spoke of her support for the homeless people in the camp and her concern at the growing nature of the problem, as the impact of government sanctions and cuts continues. She criticised the lack of legal aid for the defendants: “The council have their barristers and then you have the people who are living on the streets”, she said, “their lives are in chaos, you don’t know whether they have slept the night before or whether they have been attacked the night before, they are meant to represent themselves in court, how is that fair? It’s absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all.”
After the court reconvened, the judge adjourned the hearing until Thursday 10th September, and indicated that if one of camps’ supporters added their name to the proceedings, they could apply for legal aid. The judge also recommended that any further documents in support of the homeless camps case should be submitted before 4pm on Wednesday. The council’s legal representatives objected to the adjournment of both cases, but the judge was adamant that the fate of both camps would be determined on Thursday.
Outside the court, a despondent Wu described how shocked she was by the lack of compassion shown by the court and the council to the homeless people in the camp. Wu had hoped to communicate her arguments to the court more effectively but felt thwarted by the Judge repeatedly brushing her comments aside.
Wu will again appear in court on 30th September accused of breaching the city-wide injunction and could face a fine of up to £5,000 or a sentence of up to two years in prison. This is in spite of the fact that Wu implicitly told the authorities that the Ark camp was not a demonstration. Ben Taylor, the solicitor who represented the homeless in the injunction case, had raised concerns about the parameters of the injunction and asked whether it would be used against other camps that were not involved with the homeless protests in Castlefield and St. Ann’s Square – it would appear that the council has now answered that question.
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