Article published: Friday, May 22nd 2015
The homeless camp moved for a second time after the residents were evicted from St. Peter’s Square outside the Central Library on Tuesday. Claiming they will keep occupying public spaces until the council addresses the homeslessness problem in the city, the protesters have set up camp in St. Ann’s Square.
The police arrived with bailiffs to evict the protesters from St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday morning after they had lost their appeal at a hearing at Manchester Civil Justice Centre on 14 May. The campaigners claim that the possession order presented to them was invalid due to the missing signature of the judge but the eviction went ahead despite the protest of campaigners, supporters and local residents.
Around 30 protesters have been part of the camp since it was set up in Albert Square more than a month ago after a protest march against homelessness in Manchester. As a peaceful protest, the residents of the camp want to raise awareness of the dramatic rise of homelessness in the city following sweeping cuts to services.
Kathleen France has been at the camp from day one. “I joined after the march when I saw how disgustingly we were treated”, she said. “I hope that the council look at the problem that they have. There’s obviously a problem, otherwise these people wouldn’t be homeless.” The 27-year-old, originally from Sunderland, moved to Manchester when she was 13 and first became homeless at age 16 when her father threw her out of the family home. “They can go on about the Homeless Assessment Team all they want”, she said. “We have all seen the Homeless Assessment Team and we’re still here. That needs to change.” France has two children, 3 and 8 years old, who are currently in care, and she desperately wants a house so she can care for her children again.
Another resident of the camp, Scott Russell, who is originally from Glasgow, said that what he wants to achieve is “a home for every man”. He has served in the Royal Navy on board HMS Sheffield and HMS Illustrious and became homeless around two years ago when his marriage broke down and he had to move out of the family home.
Last year, Manchester had the highest number of rough sleepers in the North West, and since then the number of rough sleepers has risen steadily. The vast majority of homeless people are hidden homeless, who are out of sight of the public, staying in temporary and insecure accommodation, in hostels, sleeping on the floor or sofas of friends and families. As they don’t show up in official statistics, it’s difficult to know how big the problem is, but estimates show there might be millions of hidden homeless in England.
Fie Lancaster, co-founder of the Salford charity Coffee 4 Craig, said she has seen the number of homeless people double in the past year: “The hidden homeless are becoming more and more visible.” The charity works to prevent homelessness and was founded by Lancaster and her wife Risha after Risha’s brother Craig died homeless in the streets of Cardiff in 2013. They help with housing, offer food, run coffee kitchens and provide clothes for people who live on the streets. Coffee 4 Craig has received particular praise from the residents at the camp. “They stood out the most because when we first became homeless, they were the first soup kitchen”, said France, “they were different because they cared. They actually asked me if I was ok.”
The campaign’s aim to raise awareness about the situation of the homeless in the city is working, with their Facebook page Homeless Rights of Justice Mcr gaining over 2600 likes in just a month and its timeline filled with messages of solidarity. A 38 Degrees petition signed by nearly 1,000 people – and collected in only a few days – shows the high level of support for the camp. The petition was handed to the council on 13 May, the day before the last court hearing.
Many concerned residents have been stopping by the camp regularly with food and clothes and to show their support, including Vincent Ross, who has lived in Beswick for 61 years. He described the situation the homeless protesters have found themselves in to be “absolutely disgraceful and disgusting.” Ancoats resident Francis McDonald sympathises with the protesters: “The plight of homeless people in Manchester is an absolute outrage, and the authorities are doing nothing about it.” She added that people shouldn’t be homeless and live on the breadline in one of the richest countries in the world.
Sarah Tonin, another local, comes by the camp to offer food and drinks to the protesters and encourages others to show their support: “We should ask all of our MPs what their policy is on helping the homeless. There should be more places in homeless shelters and more social housing”, she said. “Many houses are standing empty with nobody living in them – it’s not the way it should be.”
Local activist Andy from the Community Awareness Network, who supports the campaigners and is involved in meetings with the council, explained how even small acts of support can help: “If you see a homeless person on the street, even if you haven’t got anything to give, just sit and talk to them”, he said. “People are coming by daily at the camp and show that they care. If they just sit and have 5 minutes with the residents, it dramatically changes the whole day for them.”
Michael, one of the protesters from the camp, is 19 years old and from Wythenshawe. He has been homeless for two weeks after being released from prison and not being offered accommodation. “We shouldn’t have to be here, but we are here to prove a point that we need homes.”
“None of the protesters want to be here”, added France, “they would all like to be cosy and secure in a house, rather than getting wet and cold and feeling like Manchester City Council are trying to sweep them under the carpet.”
The camp’s appeal against their second eviction notice, or possession order, was rejected in a court hearing on 14 May, but the judge admonished the “the juggernaut” of Manchester City Council saying: “In a democratic society of the 21st century, it is an affront that vulnerable people should be left homeless.” He remarked on the increasing scale of the problem and the loss of rights that homeless people suffer from and said: “Street homelessness is a problem for all of us for which pragmatic solutions need to be found.”
Local human rights organisation RAPAR has supported the homeless protesters from the early days of the camp. They arranged legal support for the camp shortly after it was set up in Albert Square and organised a well-attended solidarity protest to take a stance against the banning of the protesters from using the Central Library. Dr Rhetta Moran, one of the founding members of RAPAR, said: “While the residents and their supporters have been banned from the library, I can still move in and out with ease”, she said. “We’re still trying to understand the rational underpinning of the social profiling, which we consider deeply disturbing.”
The feeling amongst the protesters is that the camp is the safest place they have had to stay in a long time.
Donations of sleeping bags, blankets and quilts are urgently needed, get in touch via the Facebook page or drop off at St Ann’s Square. For more info, visit the camp’s Facebook page Homeless Rights of Justice Mcr.
A petition in support of the homeless camp, asking the council to guarantee everyone of the protesters a permanent home, can be found here.
The comments are closed.