Police and security guards have evicted a squatted homeless shelter, throwing people onto the streets as the coronavirus pandemic takes over the UK. The unbelievable eviction came one day after the government announced that people will be fined for not observing orders to stay at home.
The eviction also took place just before the government announced that it has asked all local authorities to house rough sleepers.
Brighton’s DIY Kodak Collective have been squatting commercial buildings since December 2019. They have been providing safe shelter for people who have no fixed address (NFA). The tiny city of Brighton has a staggering 665 empty commercial buildings. So the collective use some of these empty buildings to house themselves.
But on Thursday 26 March, the police used force when apparently assisting security firm Resolve Security to evict the squat.
The Kodak Collective’s Kate Barnes told The Canary:
Without warning, and completely ignoring the posters on the building (which stated it was a legal occupation of a commercial building), they started attacking the front doors with crowbars and angle grinders.
As they made their way in there was a struggle as people in the squat tried to stop them coming in, as they didn’t have legal grounds. One of the police officers knocked our disabled friend to the floor, and she has been in pain since. They also tore off the printed notices we’d stuck to the building.
‘Bypassing the proper legal procedures’
The Kodak Collective is deeply concerned that the police and property owners are using the current crisis to ignore the law. Barnes stated:
It seems like they’re using the halting of court cases at the moment to bypass the proper legal procedures and evict squatters without any prior warning. It is really hard for NFA people to self-isolate safely, so places like ours have offered a space to do so, where residents could be comfortable, look out for each other and receive outside support.
The Canary asked both Sussex Police and Resolve Security if they would like to comment. The police force told us that it had very limited information because it was a civil matter. Resolve Security did not reply by the time of publication.
The government isn’t doing enough
The government announced funding of £3.2m on 17 March to help rough sleepers self-isolate. But as The Canary has already pointed out, this figure is dwarfed by the estimated £428bn bailout announced for British businesses.
On 27 March, Sky News reported that:
The Government has written to all local authorities in England asking them to house all people sleeping rough, those in hostels and night shelters by the weekend in a bid to protect people during the covid-19 outbreak.
But this is only a temporary fix. Besides, government statistics of the number of people who are homeless are largely inaccurate. Barnes highlighted:
Official stats around how many homeless people there are in one place are really untrustworthy. There are many homeless people who go uncounted and undocumented and they do not include people sofa-surfing, living in hostels and in emergency accommodation. Brighton and Hove council says that there are 88 homeless people in Brighton. But a couple of years ago a group organised by those in the NFA community counted more than 300 people.
People don’t just need temporary accommodation for the duration of the pandemic, they need safe, secure, permanent homes. People often feel much safer in their own squats than they would a hostel.
The Kodak Collective told The Canary that the NFA community is “set to be hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic.” She has urged the public to show solidarity when it’s most needed:
We need strong community support and resistance against situations like this eviction, where people were thrown out of their home and onto the streets, putting them at greater risk. The government needs to take responsibility, not just for housing the NFA community, but for protecting their autonomy and rights.
Squats are not mentioned under the new legislation, which suggests that the NFA community have been overlooked or simply deemed not worthy enough.
The very least the government can do is to guarantee that people won’t be evicted from squatted homes. In the longer-term, the government needs to reassess its laws which criminalise squatting. Everyone has the right to a home, not just those who can pay for it.
Featured image via DIY Kodak Collective
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