Article published: Tuesday, September 29th 2015
Teenagers gathered in St Anne’s Square on Sunday to campaign for the rights and dignity of the homeless, and to show support for recently evicted residents of The Ark homeless camp.
The ‘Sleeping Boxes’ campaign involved decorating cardboard boxes to highlight restrictions Manchester City Council currently enforce on the homeless with regards to what they can use as shelter on the streets – tents are banned, but cardboard boxes are allowed.
“Homelessness is an issue we are all passionate about,” said Laura, one of the young people involved in the campaign. “Homeless people have been demonised a lot in the media recently, and we wanted to show that they’re not like that.”
This was just one of numerous actions taken over the past week by people across Manchester responding to the recent eviction of The Ark, which was situated under the Mancunian Way on Oxford Road.
The Ark was built by members of the homeless community as a ‘safe and caring refuge – protecting the city’s most vulnerable and unprotected from violence, danger and abuse.’ On the morning of Friday 18th September, High Court bailiffs and Greater Manchester Police, acting on behalf of Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), enforced a possession order on the land that had been sought by both MMU and Manchester City Council, dismantling the structure and forcibly removing the residents of the camp.
The actions of MMU management and the council have since been heavily criticised. A group of MMU staff condemned the eviction in an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Malcolm Press, describing it as an act that “smacks of social cleansing.” The University of Manchester Students’ Union soon followed with a statement echoing these sentiments: “This is a shocking reflection of the society we live in.”
Following the eviction, Professor Press released a statement describing the issue as a matter of security: “My utmost priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff, and to maintain the safety and integrity of our estate.”
However, since the university’s decision to remove The Ark and its residents, the camp has seen a surge of public support. Many have offered donations via a crowd-funding campaign, and a ‘Save The Ark’ petition has now garnered over 3,500 signatures.
A group of Buddhists held an all-day meditation flash mob at the site of the camp last Monday in an act of solidarity with the evicted residents. Simon Bradley, one of the organisers of the event, stressed that the eviction was not an isolated incident but the product of “a serious structural problem,” one that should be treated with compassion rather than aggression.
Jonny, a resident of The Ark, was surprised by the amount of support the camp has received since the eviction. “I’m shocked – I didn’t realise that there was this much support for us,” he said. “We just need more support, and for people to realise what’s happening.” He condemned the actions of MMU and Manchester City Council as “disgusting” and highlighted the urgency of the situation: “There are too many homeless people on the street, and we’re slowly dying.” MMU have erected a permanent fence around the former site of The Ark and tents now line the pavement on both sides of Oxford Road.
At 10:30am on Wednesday, residents of The Ark will appear at Manchester County Court, accused of breaking the injunction banning homeless protest camps from the city centre, a charge which carries the threat of a two-year prison sentence. Ben Taylor of WBT solicitors, a lawyer acting for two of the defendants, said: “The clients intend to defend the proceeding and they will vigorously dispute the Council’s application in every aspect.”
Update – On Wednesday 30th September, Manchester City Council’s legal bid was rejected due to a lack of evidence.
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