Manchester homeless fight for justice

The homeless people of Manchester have formed a protest camp within the city centre and are demanding their right to housing. Manchester City Council is chasing them through the courts to destroy the protest. Who would you like to win?

The article is based on my personal experience of the homeless camp since its inception in Albert Square up till the day before the case for the city wide injunction. Read the full article in Contributoria

Council pursues blanket ban on homeless protest camps in city centre

The third eviction attempt of the homeless protest camp was heard at the Manchester Civil Justice Centre on Monday. The council sought an eviction order for the protest camps in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield and a districtwide injunction banning all further homeless protest camps from the city centre. The main argument of the prosecution, as set out in the eviction papers served to the campaigners, is that the camp has been the site of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity… read rest of the article at the link below.

http://manchestermule.com/article/council-pursues-blanket-ban-on-homeless-protest-camps-in-city-centre

Wesley Dove with map of proposed exclusion zone

Wesley Dove with map of proposed exclusion zone

Map of proposed exclusion zone in Manchester City centre

Map of proposed exclusion zone in Manchester City centre

‘End the Housing Crisis, End Homelessness’ meeting held by Unite Community Branch

A meeting organised by Unite Community Branch (Greater Manchester), to discuss the homelessness and housing crisis was held on Saturday the 6th of June at the Friends Meeting House; which was built in 1795 and has played an important role in the political evolution of Manchester. The meeting was attended by union members, charities concerned with homelessness and members of the public.

John Clegg who is the Secretary for the GM Unite Community Branch spoke during the meeting explaining their support for the protest and the increasing problem of homelessness of which the housing crisis plays a major part in. He explained that members of the homeless community, who were campaigning, had become members of Unite Community Branch and this had allowed Unite to take a more active role in supporting the campaign. Unite also have plans to open up a bank account to support the campaign, to aid in collecting donations to the campaign.

Dean a spokesman from the Homeless Rights Of Justice Mcr campaign gave an account of life in the protest camp, and what the members of the protest hoped to achieve. When asked what people in the camp needed most Dean replied “what the people in the camp need most is respect”. He also mentioned the meeting between the campaigners the previous day and mentioned that Manchester City Council had agreed to waive the ‘intentionally homeless’ designation when considering homeless people for housing. Ben Taylor, the solicitor supporting the homeless rights campaign, also commented on the legal side of the campaign so far.

Len Taylor, a member of the Bolton Anti Bedroom Tax campaign spoke of their extensive campaigning on the matter. He also brought to the attention of the meeting cases of suicide that have occurred by people sanctioned by social security. Len plans to take a coffin down to the ‘End Austerity Now’ demo in London on the 20th of June to highlight the fact that some people have payed the ultimate price under austerity. Mark Krantz from the Anti Bedroom Tax Federation for Greater Manchester also spoke about their work, and of the demo ‘End Evictions No More Bedroom Tax’. The demo will occur between 12 till 2pm on the 25th of June outside the GMEX, where Tory housing minister Brandon Lewis will address the CIH housing conference.

John Clegg said after the meeting “it went very well, a lot of ground was covered … the contributions from Dean were excellent and reflected in a very strong way the views of the people on the camp. It seems clear now that after yesterday’s meeting with the city council there may be some progress in general, but we should not take our foot of the pedal.”

When asked what was the next step for Unite Community in regards to the campaign John said “We will provide whatever support we can for the campaign…a number of people in the campaign are Unite community members, and we will do everything we can to maintain and strengthen that link. Through Unite internal processes we also plan to approach members of MCC who are Unite Councillors, we understand there is in the region of 28 to 30.” He went on to explain that Unite officers would try to engage the Unite councillors within MCC into a discussion regarding the homelessness issue in Manchester.

Progress Made in Meeting Between Homeless Rights Campaigners and Manchester City Council

A meeting, on the 5th of June, between members of the Homeless Rights of Justice Manchester campaign and Manchester City Council (MCC) was a “positive” one according to Danny Jones a founding member of the campaign. Previous discussions with the council, early in the protest had made no progress and had led to a period with no discussion between the two sides when the litigious side of the conflict dominated (see previous story in Manchester Mule). Danny described MCC agreeing to drop its intentionally homeless designation when considering people for housing a “mini victory” for the campaign.

The meeting took place at the Booth Centre and included two members from MCC; Beth Knowles (Labour Councillor, City Centre) and Hazel Summers (Director of Families, Health and Wellbeing); five members from the protest camp; Danny Jones, Adam Whelan, Scott Russell, Jamie and Joe; and two members of the Greater Manchester Unite Community Branch; John Clegg and Chris Mcbride.

Placard at protest camp in St Ann's Square.

Placard at protest camp in St Ann’s Square.

During the meeting homeless members of the group described their background and the reasons why they became homeless so the council members could have a greater understanding of their issues. The setting up of a steering group was also agreed upon that will meet fortnightly to discuss ways to improve the homelessness services in Manchester.

Danny Jones said of the future steering group meetings “We are going to discuss all the issues, everything in regards to being homeless; so from the moment you walk in for assessment to all the way through, all the paperwork is going to be looked at.” He went on to add “The council have said they are looking to implement the new strategy by October, which is pretty quick … seeing as they have not developed their strategy yet. This is hopefully why they have asked for help.”

Danny Jones also explained that each meeting will have a specific agenda and homeless/recently re-housed members of the community with the most experience in that particular subject would be included in the meetings. In the interim till October the homeless outreach team will come down to the camp, meet with people on an individual basis and find suitable accommodation for them. “To allow them to do that we have asked them to drop the title of intentionally homeless, so that no longer applies” said Danny who thinks the title of intentionally homeless is ridiculous as “nobody makes themselves intentionally homeless”. The term intentionally homeless means that the person has left accommodation that they could have stayed in, which means they are not entitled to an offer of accommodation from MCC.

Placard at protest camp in St Ann's Square.

Placard at protest camp in St Ann’s Square.

When asked to comment on the meeting Councillor Paul Andrews, executive member for adult health and wellbeing, said: “We listened to concerns from representatives of the protest camp and invited them to work with us as we devise a new strategy for tackling homelessness. We have also committed to holding regular meetings with homeless people, including those who have been on the camp, as we take this strategy forward.” He went on to add “We also gave assurances that we would continue to engage with members of the camp, and our outreach workers will try to get vulnerable people off the street… During the last year we have provided emergency accommodation to 1700 people including both homeless families and single people.”

During the interview Danny Jones announced he would be leaving the camp, currently in St Anne’s Square “we hit the two month mark on Wednesday, I think the camp is pretty much running itself now… I am going to pull out as of Wednesday [10th June]”. Danny who has been with the camp since day one assured me that he would still be supporting the campaign but not as a full time resident of the camp, he added initially the protest camp “was just an awareness raising exercise, and it has turned into one of the longest running camps in the UK…The camp has done what it set out to do and that is to raise homelessness to the top of the agenda.”

Danny Jones (centre) handing in 38 Degrees petiton, in support of HROJMcr campaign

Danny Jones (centre) handing in 38 Degrees petiton, in support of HROJMcr campaign

Homeless Rights Campaigners Meet with Rector of St Ann’s Church

The Rector of St Ann’s Church, Nigel Ashworth, held a meeting with the homeless protestors in the church chapel on Thursday the 4th of June. The Rector said the meeting, with refreshments, was a “welcome to the neighbourhood” for the protestors and that St Anne’s church, consecrated in 1712, was “an open church, and they were welcome to attend the regular free music performances available”. He added that “there would always be a sympathetic ear available if any of the protestors wanted to discuss their troubles”

Danny Jones is an activist supporter of the Homeless Rights of Justice Manchester campaign who has been with the camp since day one. He explained to the Rector that the protest initially had been “only planned for one night” on April the 15th in Albert Square. As more homeless people joined the demonstration, they became aware of the benefits (security, access to information, food and the support of their peers) the homeless people received from being in the camp.

Protest camp banner in St Ann's Square

Protest camp banner in St Ann’s Square

Due to the camp becoming a “homeless resource”, and the amount of support it was getting from the public, it was decided to keep the protest going. He also described how the activists and homeless members of the protest group were “working well together” and had formed a community dedicated to promoting the aims of the protest.

The aims of the protest are set out in an open letter to the council, which can be signed to show support for the protest. The council recently replied to a 38 Degrees petition, in support of the camp that was handed in on the 13th of May, the reply can be read in full here, the gist of the reply was that the council were doing all they could to re-house the homeless.

Rhetta Moran from RAPAR, a local human rights organisation that has been supporting the camp since Albert Square, was also present at the meeting. Rhetta praised the sense of community within the camp and the sense of safety it engendered for the homeless protestors. The “unique” nature of the camp was also raised, and that it was becoming increasingly important in highlighting the plight of the homeless nationally.

Some of the homeless protestors raised the issue of how dangerous it could be on the streets, and occasional abuse they have received from drunk people passing the camp at night. The Rector said he understood that the streets were particularly dangerous for single homeless people, and was sorry to see that “Manchester had the third highest level of drunken abusive behaviour in the country”. Other protestors also thanked the Rector for inviting them into the Church and offering his support to the camp members.

The Rector said it was important to dismiss the”negative stereotypes” that some members of the public hold against the homeless, and that the “Links between us are more important than what separates”. He added that the “camp members need to be, and were, good ambassadors for the homeless” and praised the camp members for the good order of the camp and their behaviour while in St Ann’s Square.

Protest camp with St Ann's Church in background.

Protest camp with St Ann’s Church in background.

Response to reply of MCC to 38 Degrees petition supporting HROJMcr

Below is my reply to Mr Delap, which I posted of today. The reply from Alex Delap, to the petition can be found here.

Dear Mr Delap,

Thank you for your timely and comprehensive reply to the petition delivered to you in support of the Homeless Rights of Justice Manchester campaign. The petition when handed in had 886 signatures on it, which was whittled down to 111 following Manchester City Councils petition guidelines of only accepting signatures with a Manchester post code. In my opinion, in this case, it would have been fairer to include signatures from Greater Manchester, as a number of the campaigners (and other homeless people in Manchester) are from outside Manchester. Maybe you will have to consider petitions (and homelessness) on a bigger scale when Devo-Manc arrives?

I am pleased to hear that Manchester City Council often makes offers of accommodation outside its statutory duties. And agree that this must be very difficult at times when considering the complex nature of the needs and problems you are presented with by homeless people. Alex you have provided me with reassurance that you are doing all you can to secure accommodation in the current homelessness services setup within Manchester City Council.

The unpleasant fact however is, what you are doing is not enough. And the only thing that can change that fact is more thought, energy and resources being applied to the problem of homelessness.

The government statistics show a steady increase, in the UK, of households accepted as statutorily homeless since 2009. Government figures show there were 12,540 households accepted, in England, as statutorily homeless in the first quarter of 2014, this had risen to 13,650 by the last quarter of 2014. The number of English households in temporary accommodation rose from 58,440 to 61,970 between 31st March 2014 and the 31st Dec. 2014. MCCs annual count of rough sleepers in Manchester on one night last November came to 43, in 2010 the number was 7; local charities estimate that the real number is double that of the annual official count.

This problem can only get worse with the coming £12 billion in cuts to services promised by the Tory government. They also have plans to prevent under 21 year olds receiving housing benefit and to sell of more social housing with no firm plans on how to replace the lost housing stock. Can you see the problem getting any better if we continue along the same course?

I fear, Alex, that you are approaching a perfect storm. The conditions being created by the government’s pursuit of austerity, pretty much every cut the government makes to public spending will have the effect of putting more people on the streets. And is there any more money being provided for Homelessness Services to deal with this increase? No, as their budgets are being slashed just like every other department; with a callous disregard for the growing number of people in need within the UK. Maybe you should consider changing jobs before the storm becomes a hurricane.

So the majority of the blame for this ‘storm’ lies with the Tory government, I agree. But I have heard nothing from the Labour Council or MPs in Manchester to raise this issue of increasing social deprivation caused by austerity measures that target the weakest in our society, rather than the strongest. I want the Labour party within Manchester TO MAKE SOME NOISE! I want you to bang drums and blow trumpets into the ears of David Cameron so that he removes his head from the clouds and actually notices what austerity is doing, not just to Manchester but the whole country.

I applaud the recent meeting MCC had with the homeless campaigners. The campaigners came away feeling it had been a positive meeting, and are hopeful progress can be made in the coming fortnightly meetings of the steering group on homelessness policy. However there needs to be money made available to implement any changes that are decided upon in the new homelessness strategy for Manchester.

Yours Sincerely
Conrad Bower

Manchester homeless fight for justice – Contributoria proposal

If you would like to see the article commisioned and published you should vote for it. Very simple procedure just sign up with email address and password, you then get 50 points to vote with every month; you can also then submit your own proposals.

https://www.contributoria.com/issue/2015-08/556cace5ffa490001600007f