A battle won for the homeless campaigners in Manchester?

The “juggernaut” of Manchester City Council appears to have changed course recently announcing new initiatives to reduce homelessness in Manchester. What has been the role of homeless protest camps and campaigns in bringing about this change?

Banner used at various homeless protest camps in Manchester. Photo: John Clegg

Banner used at various homeless protest camps in Manchester. Photo: John Clegg

Recent statements by Manchester City Council relating to the opening of new hostels for the homeless, investigating the implementation of a Housing First policy and coming up with a new homelessness strategy indicate a new-found energy within the council towards tackling homelessness and rough sleeping within the city. Is this a battle won for the homeless people and their supporters who have been campaigning for the rights of homeless people since a protest camp was set up in Albert Square in April 2015? Councillors responsible for homelessness services indicate that the protestors have had nothing to do with progress made by the council in improving services to the homeless.

If you are a resident of Manchester you will probably be familiar with the homeless protest camps that have been situated at various points around the city, either by walking past them or hearing about them in the news. The council, desperate to end the bad publicity, chased the occupants of these homeless protest camps through the courts, forcing the camp to move to different locations and increasing the amount of bad publicity, both locally and nationally, the council was subject to.

In the Court of Appeal on 14 May Judge Allan Gore QC rejected an appeal against a possession order served on the protest camps, but admonished “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.” Mentioning the increasing scale of the problem and the loss of rights homeless people suffer from, Gore concluded: “Street homelessness is a problem for all of us.”

Sign displayed at the St Ann's homeless protest camp.

Sign displayed at the St Ann’s homeless protest camp.

In an attempt to end the homeless protests MCC changed its strategy and attempted to get an injunction against protest camps within the city centre. Initially MCC and its legal team sought to acquire what was described in court as “an injunction against the whole world” by solicitor Ben Taylor, who was working pro bono representing the homeless defendants due to a number of requests for legal aid being refused. The injunction eventually awarded to MCC was a much watered down version of what they wanted: it was only serviceable against people “erecting and/or occupying tents or other moveable temporary forms of accommodation for the purposes of or in connection with protests or similar events arising from or connected with the Claimant’s [Manchester City Council’s] homeless policy on land”. A full report on this court case and the resulting injunction can be read here.

At the time many people supporting the campaign believed that this sort of injunction would be unenforceable due to the difficulties proving that someone was actually protesting against MCC’s homeless policy. The once-again evicted homeless protest camp took this latest development on board and set up a street/refuge for the homeless called the Ark under the Mancunian way on Oxford Rd, specifically stating it was not a protest camp.

Sign displayed at the Ark saying it was not a protest camp.

Sign displayed at the Ark, Oxford Rd, saying it was not a protest camp. Photo: Manchester Evening News

However for some unknown reason MCC seemed to believe they could make this injunction stick in court and during the eviction proceedings of the Ark, seven people were charged with breaking the injunction, potentially facing up to two years in prison or a £5000 fine. But during the court hearing on the 30th of September “Manchester City Council was almost laughed out of court” according to a report in the Salford Star. Circuit Judge Gore on the day was particularly damning of the case presented by the council, criticising the lack of dates and descriptions of behaviours breaching the injunction. The Salford Star reported Gore describing the case presented as:

“A fundamentally misconceived and inappropriate way to advance criminal proceedings, where the party [Manchester City Council] seeks that the court orders to commit people to prison”.

The judge refused the council’s case to have the defendants committed due to breaches of the injunction, and also dismissed a possession order on the Ark camp citing serious procedural failures in the case presented by MCC.

Ben Taylor, representing the defendants, said of the case in the MEN. ”The degree of incompetence in making this application by Manchester council’s legal team is breathtaking, it beggars belief. My clients were petrified that they could be going to jail simply for living in a tent. I would have expected Manchester council to have done have done their job properly. The application was so fundamentally flawed it didn’t even get off the ground.“

Improved services for the homeless

Perhaps all this negative press and admonishments by the judiciary has had an effect? Recent statements by MCC suggest they are beginning to change their strategy when dealing with homelessness within the city. During a Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting on 27th October 2015, a report on MCC’s Homelessness Strategy was discussed, which included a number of positive steps including the following:

  • An empty buildings survey in progress, refurbishment of 18 empty properties to house the homeless, and new homeless shared housing bed spaces reopened.
  • A draft code of conduct and standards for residential Bed and Breakfasts used to temporarily house homeless people, with the aim to have agencies only using accommodation signed up to the code.
  • Implement a Housing First model in Manchester, which will be evaluated by York University, work to commence in April 2016.
  • Evidence-based report on the effects of government policy on the housing situation in Manchester. It will cover changes to welfare and benefits payments, Universal Credit for housing paid directly to landlords and the use of benefit sanctions. The report will be sent to national government seeking to influence policy.

In a statement published by MCC on the 16th November it was announced that two unused buildings – the former Beech Mount Children’s Home in Harpurhey and the old Hulme Library – would be opened up to be used by rough sleepers, and also mentioned plans for other temporary accommodation for rough sleepers to be made available. In the statement, MCC’s executive member for adult health and well being, Councillor Paul Andrews said:

“We’ve spent months working on plans to open up empty buildings across the city to make sure nobody has to sleep rough on the streets this winter… we’re now continuing to carry out inspections so we can open more empty buildings in other parts of the city. As well as this, we’ve also reopened some buildings as shared houses, while faith groups are opening up other centres, meaning there will be a much wider range of bed spaces available across the city.”

Andrews went on to say that although this was a good start more work was needed by MCC homelessness services and its partners in the voluntary sector to: “…make sure the right help and support is available to rough sleepers so we can help them make the first steps towards getting off the streets for good.” In a later statement released on the 6th of December the council reported that 165 new bed spaces would be available in Manchester for rough sleepers this winter.

Councillors dismiss homeless protests as a distraction

During the scrutiny committee meeting, scathing remarks were aimed at the role of activists/protestors in the homelessness issues in Manchester. Councillor Andrews had this to say about rough sleepers and homeless within Manchester:

“A lot of them are not Manchester residents, a lot of the people you see on the streets at the moment especially in tents are not even homeless, they are actually professional protestors. There has been lots of stuff going on in the media to actually deal with that. Despite all that going on our homelessness teams and our officers are out every day trying to identify people who are actually homeless , to actually deal with them and get them off the streets as quick as they possibly can. That is impinged somewhat by the protestors and trying to get through the crap that’s going on with the protestors”.

These views were echoed by Councillor Hazel Summers, “I am probably not allowed to say this but I will: the protestors are actually distracting us from our job.”

Understandably the protests have been very trying for the homelessness services team, but that is the job of a protestor: to make the person responsible for dealing with the situation as uncomfortable as possible. Polite letters from the public and campaigns by homeless charities have had very little effect on changing things. The protest camps raised the profile of this issue locally, nationally and finally internationally with the involvement of Gary Neville. I don’t expect the homelessness services in Manchester to be singing the praises of the protestors, but they should recognise that the protests and the surrounding publicity have provided an extra impetus, enabling them to introduce new initiatives and speed up the provision of services already in the pipeline.

Andrews also tries to undermine the legitimacy of the initial protest camps by saying the majority of the people in the tents on the streets of our city are not even homeless and calling them professional protestors. This sort of line has been uttered by council officials before, which I described in a previous article in Contributoria. I have also heard, from a Manchester councillor, that this belief in professional protestors is prevalent in the upper echelons of MCC. So I will reiterate what I have said previously of my experience of the protest camps in Albert Square, St Peters Square and St Anns Square: activists have been an important part of this campaign, but they have always been in a minority compared to campaigning members of the homeless community.

Homeless support/campaigns post injunction

The failed attempt by MCC to enforce the injunction and eviction order on the Ark was eventually followed by a successful eviction order on the 20th of October 2015. The protest that gained the most press coverage for the plight of the homeless in Manchester was the squatting of the Stock Exchange building on Norfolk St in Manchester city centre by the Manchester Angels. The building is owned by footballing superstars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, who instead of dragging the squatters through the courts said the building could be used to shelter the homeless until February 2016, when building work was due to start. Another group called the Creative Hub have been squatting buildings in Manchester and offering shelter to the homeless as well as art, yoga, and education courses. The Creative Hub were evicted from their last property on Houndsworth St, along with 27 Homeless people, on the 17th of December, but according to their Facebook page they already have another squat set up.

A growing problem

The latest figures on rough sleeping in Manchester produced by MCC indicate the growing nature of the problem (see graph below), with the 2015 count of 70 being a 63% rise from the year before. And the actual figures are likely to be much worse than this as the way the count is carried out (on one night of the year with in specific city centre locations) is generally regarded to under count the problem. Councillor Summers indicated this at the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee meeting: “The headcount is set up in a ways to undercount the problem, as a snapshot of one particular night”.

Rough Sleepers Headcount for Manchester 2010-15

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Jenny Osborne , Senior Strategy Manager of Public Health Manchester, spoke at the same meeting. “Hazel [Summers] asked me to pick up a piece of work about 5 months ago to accelerate the strategic response to the growing problem of rough sleeping we have in the city.” Osborne went on to describe how inaccurate the rough sleepers headcount was likely to be by comparing it to data gathered from the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, where the council has an obligation to house rough sleepers in very cold/bad weather:

“Last year the headcount for rough sleepers was 47; we know that from the severe weather protocol we operated last year that 234 separate individuals accessed that provision during the cold weather period.”

The coming storm

The council initiatives are very welcome news to the homeless community in Manchester and their supporters. But will these latest efforts be enough to circumvent the perfect storm of poverty approaching due to the governments austerity agenda?

The funding cuts imposed by central government have forced MCC to make funding cuts, to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant, totalling £2,013,188 in 2015. And the funding cut of 56% to the central grant given to local authorities announced by George Osborne in the autumn statement has yet to bite. The amount of social housing is set to fall with the extending of the Right to Buy to housing association properties, with vague promises to replace those sold under this scheme but no actual plans on how this will be done; similar promises have been made before and not kept. The government has got rid of the obligation for private building firms to provide social housing in their developments. The 1% rent cut every year for the next four years that Housing Associations have to make is predicted to force housing associations to abandon plans to build 27,000 new homes, according to the National Housing Federation.

Supporters outside court after first court appearance for eviction from St Ann's Square

Supporters outside court after first appearance for eviction from St Ann’s Square

Every cut the government makes to public spending is set to increase poverty and homelessness within the UK: social security, social care, mental health and drug/alcohol services have all been savaged by cuts, with more to follow.

The struggle continues

I believe this is a battle won for the homeless campaigns, and everyone who has supported them, in Manchester this year. The progress made by MCC Homelessness Services also deserves praise, but council members would do well to avoid churlish remarks aimed at the campaigners. There is a lot of bad blood between the two groups, who should try to remember that they are both ultimately on the same side in the continuing war against homelessness.

Currently the job of council members involved with Homelessness Services must be an exceedingly difficult one. Being faced every day with increasing levels of homelessness and having to deal with that problem with dwindling resources, must be at at times both heart breaking and soul destroying.

Councillor Fran Shone spoke powerfully at the Neighbourhoud Scrutiny Committee meeting in October of how the increasing levels of homelessness had affected her:

“The position we are in in Manchester is absolutely shameful, its awful. I can’t believe It when I walk round the city centre actually. It makes me cringe to be a councillor and to be involved with Manchester… I know lots of people are working extremely hard, but I think we have been very slow in responding to this … These people [homeless] aren’t the problem, they are vulnerable people who we have a responsibility for, and are just failing catastrophically, every day, its awful. And its something I think we as a council have been very, very weak on recently. We have to find some way to solve it whether or not we are responsible for it.”

I am confident that with the right planning and adequate resources the council could make big progress in tackling homelessness. The current council plans look promising, particularly the Housing First initiative; similar Housing First programs in the USA and Canada have provided outstanding results in reducing homelessness in a cost-effective way.

But the best laid plans will amount to very little if sufficient resources are not in place. The council needs to seriously consider whether it can reverse some of the funding cuts to Housing Related Support and the Homelessness Prevention Grant. The plan to present an evidence based report on housing/homelessness to central government is a good one, the power of which could be increased by collaborating with other councils, thus increasing the leverage power of the combined reports and improving the chance of extra funds from central government to deal with housing issues.

The chair of the Scrutiny Committee meeting, Councillor Daniel Gillard, was in no doubt as to who was responsible for the increasing levels of homelessness within Manchester:

“The ultimate blame, the ultimate moral responsibility, lies for the last 5 years, with the Tory/Liberal and now Tory government, they are the ones who should be ashamed of themselves. I would love to meet any one of those ministers in a one to one debate, and walk them round this city and shame them personally; they ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Conrad Bower  – First published in 38 Degrees Manchester on 21st Dec 2015

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City wide injunction against Manchester homeless protest camps granted by judge

An unequal battle occurred in court on July 30th, resulting in a city wide injunction being ordered against homeless protest camps. Manchester City Council (MCC) were represented by their usual counsel, barrister Arron Walthall , the homeless protest camps were represented, without counsel, by solicitor Ben Taylor working pro bono as repeated appeals for legal aid had been turned down by the legal aid board. Due to the two named defendants in the case (Wesley Dove and Elizabeth Hodgkinson) being repeatedly denied legal aid Taylor planned to launch “a judicial review of the legal aid agency, and that is what I am going to be seeking to do if we adjourn this today”

The judgement of district judge Ranji Matheru is the culmination of a long running battle between MCC and the homeless protest camps (reported in the Manchester Mule here). The injunction bans the use of any tents or temporary and removable forms of accommodation within the defined limits of Manchester city centre (limits reported in the Mule here). The injunction initially sought by MCC was against “persons unknown” would apply to not only homeless protestors but to anyone using a temporary shelter; hence Taylor describing it in court as “an injunction against the whole world”. The criminal sanction of up to 2 years in jail is possible for anyone breaking the injunction. The judge ordered the terms of the injunction to be tightened up to aid clarity, possibly by a list of excluded structures and named defendants rather than persons unknown. The Injunction is to run for a set time limit, which could be up to two years, yet to be determined.

A solidarity sleep over protest was started on the previous day to the court case, with a small group of tents pitched in front of Manchester Civil Justice Courts. In the morning before the court case a number of people spoke to the gathered protestors in support of the homeless protest camps, including Rhetta Moran (RAPAR) and John Clegg (Unite Community Branch Grt Man.).

John Clegg (Unite Community Branch Grt. Man.) speaking at solidarity demo outside court.

John Clegg (Unite Community Branch Grt. Man.) speaking at solidarity demo outside court.

Scott Russell took part in the sleep over protest, and was a former member of the homeless protest camp, who was rehoused. He said he was there ‘supporting the homeless like I always have done, because it is so easy to slip into it, and its really hard to get out of it.’

the Exceptional Case Funding merit test is wholly unsatisfactory

Russell had also been part of the group (which included homeless people, activists and Unite Union members) in talks with the forward planning committee for homelessness of MCC. The aim of these fortnightly talks, which started on the 5 of June (reported here), was to come up with a new improved plan for the homelessness services of MCC. Scott said of the meetings “They ceased all talks with us last week and they were supposed to be making an appointment but they said ‘oh we’ve cancelled it’, they cancelled the meeting apparently three days before but no one told us about it.” A spokesperson from MCC said “It was felt that the Council needed to focus its efforts on direct discussion with homeless people, both those within the camp and also other rough sleepers who  wanted to share their experiences and views”

The “belt and braces” legal strategy adopted by MCCs counsel to acquire the city wide injunction, was to cite the Local Government act of 1972 section 222, trespass laws and planning laws. Walfall said, during the trial, that the injunction would not include “sleeping bags, benches or cardboard boxes”. He also informed the court that MCC had spent “in excess of £100k” in their dealings with the protest camps.

The defendants tents were their homes, they had no other.

Initially Taylor asked for another adjournment to the case for the reason that legal aid had been refused to the defendant by the legal aid board after repeated appeals to them; because they did not pass the merit tests for Exceptional Case Funding (ECF). Taylor cited a report a recent report by Lord Chancellor J. Collins, which stated that “the Exceptional Case Funding merit test is wholly unsatisfactory” and that it was “apparent the ECF fund is to complex”. Taylor wished to launch a judicial review on the ECF funding criteria. The judge refused the adjournment, stating the decision to go ahead with case whether funding was available or not in the last court appearance(reported in the Mule here).

Defending the homeless Taylor raised there Article 8 rights of the ECHR which states ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’. He told the court that “The defendants tents were their homes, they had no other.”

The judge ordered the eviction of the camps in Castlefield and St Ann’s square on the grounds of trespass. She granted the injunction sought by MCC under the Local Government act of 1972, section 222. Summing up her decision she said the Article 8 rights of the defendants were not engaged in this case and highlighted the costs already incurred and the prospect of further costs if the protest camps continue.

I mean how many people die on the streets, you know its so dangerous

Nicola Moore is a voluntary worker who helps the homeless people of Manchester. Moore has been a long time supporter of the protest camps and came today “because what Manchester Council is doing is absolutely criminal. I mean how many people die on the streets, you know its so dangerous. We have had people who have been gang raped on the streets.” After the decision of the court had been reached Moore was further outraged “ it was absolutely disgusting, I cant believe just how disgusting it was.” and added “They didn’t get legal aid after three attempts at it. He [Taylor] didn’t have counsel, there was no one to help him research.”

Nicola Moore outside court after case

Nicola Moore outside court after case

The courtroom was packed with supporters of the homeless protest camps when the Judge announced her decision, many supporters left the courtroom visibly and audibly upset and angry at the decision made. A sombre Taylor said after the case “I am disappointed with the outcome and will now consider whether there are any prospects on appeal”

Cllr Nigel Murphy, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods for Manchester City Council, on the 31st July said: “We are pleased that the courts have granted the exclusion order we asked for, which is specifically designed to prevent the recurrence of camps and not targeted at individual rough sleepers.” He went on to add “”We will now be working with Greater Manchester Police and court bailiffs to regain possession of the site as soon as possible. Our homeless team will also be visiting the camps … to offer support, guidance and accommodation to anyone who requires it.”

The finalised injunction order was reported on by RAPAR on the 5th of August. It was an ameliorated version of the injunction initially sought by MCC. No longer “an injunction against the whole world” instead it was only serviceable against people “erecting and/or occupying tents or other moveable temporary forms of accommodation for the purposes of or in connection with protests or similar events arising from or connected with the Claimant’s [Manchester City Council’s] homeless policy on land”. The order also provides a list of what is not considered temporary forms of accomodation:

a. Sleeping bags / blankets
b. Cardboard boxes
c. Benches
d. Doorways
e. Bus shelters
f. Hostel accommodation
g. Overnight charity accommodation

The injunction order issued is much weaker than the one MCC inititally sought, in the words of Taylor “It would be for the Claimant [MCC] to prove that the contemnor [person in contempt of injunction] is in breach, NOT for the individual to prove that he/she has not breached. This is a very high hurdle for Manchester City Council to get over. In particular, how could Manchester City Council prove that someone is protesting about its Homeless Policy short of the individual holding a placard stating as much?”

The homeless protest camps have not yet been served with orders for eviction from their current sites in St Ann’s Square and Castlefield. If they move to another site after being evicted MCC will find it very hard to serve the injunction on them and make it stick. Could this be a turning point leading to MCC changing their strategy? Maybe council officials are wondering if they could actually prevent homlessness occuring in the first place and improve homelessness services within the city, rather than chasing homeless people through the courts?


Solidarity demo protestors outside court before case

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.


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