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. The eviction order for the Oxford Rd site was sought by Manchester City Council (MCC) and Manchester Metropolitan University. Jen Wu a supporter of the camp in Oxford Rd, also called the Ark, spoke in defence of the homeless camp in court saying that “They have been refused the right to exist on private land or public highways, where does that leave them?”. She told the court that she believed the homeless people of Manchester were being denied their human rights.
The Ark has been established on unused land under the Mancunian Way on Oxford Rd by homeless people with public support. According to a change.org petition in support of the camp, that has achieved over 1800 signatures, the camp “provides a safe and caring refuge — protecting the city’s most vulnerable and unprotected from violence, danger and abuse“. Signs up at the Ark site say that the site is their to “provide homes and a shelter and that it is not a protest” to avoid falling foul of the recently authorised city wide injunction against homeless people demonstrating against MCCs homelessness policy in Manchester.
Due to the case being against “persons unknown” the supporters speaking in defence of the homeless did not have any legal aid, which led to a disorderly hearing and unfair one according to Wesley Hall who was speaking for the King St camp “ We have no legal representation, it is unfair. There are seven of them against two of us”. Both Hall and Wu said in court that they considered the two days notice given to them to prepare for the case was unfair. Passions flared and emotions overflowed in court leading to the Judge clearing the court till everyone had calmed down.
Its David and Goliath ain’t it? Its absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all
During the break Liz, from Whalley Range, spoke of her support for the homeless people in the camp and the growing nature of the problem due to the sanctions and cuts enforced due to the austerity policies of government. Liz was not happy about the legal aid situation “The council have their barristers and everything, and then you have the people who are living on the streets, their lives are in chaos, you don’t know whether they have slept the night before, whether they have been attacked the night before, they are meant to represent themselves in court, how is that fair? Its David and Goliath ain’t it? Its absolutely insane, there’s no justice there at all.”
After the court reconvened the Judge adjourned the hearing till Thursday 10th June, and indicated that if one of the supporters of the camps added their name to the proceedings they could then 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 brief for MCC objected to the case for both camps being adjourned, but the judge was adamant that the fate of both camps would be determined on Thursday.
Outside the court a drained and despondent Wu described how shocked she was by the lack of compassion shown by the court, and MCC, to the homeless people in the camp, and described the hearing as “completely unjust”. Wu had hoped to communicate her arguments to the court more effectively but felt thwarted by the Judge repeatedly brushing her arguments aside, “they wouldn’t even let me read my statement to refute the reasons for calling the possession order. I was crossing them all of the list [the judge said} ‘I don’t have time’ well you know lives are at stake here”
On the 30th September Wu is again in court accused of breaching the city wide injunction and could face a fine of up to five thousand pounds or a sentence of up to two years in prison. This is in spite of the fact that Wu told the authorities that the Ark camp was not a demonstration. Ben Taylor, the solicitor who represented the homeless (pro bono) in the injunction case, raised concerns about the limits of the injunction and asked whether the injunction would be used against other camps that were not involved with the homeless protest camps in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield. It appears that Manchester City Council have now answered that question.
Article originally published in Manchester Mule, Sept 9th, 2015