Freedom News

“Don’t worry, we’re autonomous”: winter shelter evicted

Around 30 people have been evicted from an autonomously organised shelter in North London. At 9am on Thursday 7th April agents of the National Eviction Team and notorious eviction magnate Andrew Marsh, smashed their way through barricades to enforce a High Court writ despite repeated attempts by the occupiers to enter into dialogue with the property’s owners, OneHousing, to negotiate a peaceful and orderly handover.

The former St. Mungo’s hostel on Grey’s Inn Road has housed a community of vulnerable adults since it was squatted in December last year, including a woman six months pregnant with twins and many people who the care system has categorically failed to support through the winter. The eviction comes only days after the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol for London was activated, with freezing temperatures predicted for later in the week. There are no planning permission requests logged with Camden council for the property, and it will now most likely remain empty until its inevitable conversion into unaffordable housing.

Despite ardent prayers, St. Mungo did not manifest, and no representatives of the charity attended. After being evicted through the backdoor to prevent a shameful public scene, the former residents were subjected to harassment by police to ‘clear the area’, despite no alternative accommodation being offered by the authorities. Several residents were visibly distressed and protected from arrest and restraint by the cops through the care and determination of other community members.

One journalist on the scene incredulously asked the police where everyone was supposed to go, to which a resident responded:

“Don’t worry, we’re autonomous.”

Since being opened by anarchists last year, the shelter has self-organised to provide room and board for dozens of people, including squatters, former renters and rough sleepers, and becoming a hub for the distribution of hundreds of meals, clothes and cold weather gear. One of the most recent members to join is a survivor of domestic abuse who had been rejected from their previous refuge and would have ended up on the street otherwise. The fifteen rooms were often double and triple occupied, with a communal sleeping area in the basement at times home to up to a dozen more. There were sinks in each room, showers and baths on each floor. Many of the residents are surviving with mental illness, addiction and post-traumatic stress exacerbated by their previous precarious housing situation. Many were found by the shelter’s outreach teams sleeping rough in the King’s Cross area and had become full-time members of the community.

Daphne, a former resident, reported: “The other hostels are rife with drugs and violence. At least here, we could solve our own problems, and make our own decisions. It’s been more than a shelter, this was our home. If it wasn’t for squatting, I’d be on the streets.”

The community organised through regular meetings, making decisions by vote, and working with the issues the residents faced through collective care and support. The original manifesto reports the guiding ethos as being ‘mutual aid, mutual respect’. The project was supported and endorsed by the Hillside Resident’s Association, who have described themselves as being ‘at war’ with OneHousing over how they manage its rented properties.

The anarchist-squatter community has run shelters like the one in Grey’s Inn Road for decades, including in Brighton, Manchester and Bristol, and the community had hoped to enter into a meanwhile use agreement with OneHousing to guarantee the security of tenure and allow them to continue to provide shelter. Half a mile in either direction from the site are tent cities lined up outside Euston and along the Strand, and every doorway around the area has someone huddled in a sleeping bag inside it. Yet many of buildings around WC1 lie empty, disused, awaiting occupation. Many of them for years.

As with the recent occupation of an oligarch’s mansion in Belgravia that saw a massive police response, the real reason for the brutal eviction is that projects like these, autonomously organised and directly active, are a genuine threat to the legitimacy of councils, property firms, and capitalist logic. Historically, mass movements of self-housers became simply unstoppable as people organised to solve the housing crisis themselves, forcing councils to sign deals and legalise many squats into the cooperative movement. Residents at the shelter had remained in occupation despite the threat of eviction since January, determined to defend their home and their community. 

Evictions are increasingly becoming centralised operations, with self-styled ‘lock father’ Andrew Marsh boasting that his firm is the preferred contractor of Lewisham and Camden councils, Transport for London and many more. His firm evicted people throughout the lockdown, and in January 2021 was allegedly employed in an eviction where two squatters were beaten unconscious by security agents. One had their leg broken and the other nearly lost an eye. He has denied any responsibility, and police refused to investigate due to ‘lack of evidence’. After being berated during a pandemic eviction in 2020 and asked what his children would think of him doing this, Marsh subsequently came to work with his teenage son in attendance.

OneHousing are merging with housing association Riverside, and despite paying lip service to corporate social responsibility, their actions at the former St. Mungo’s site prove that they are property speculators and corporatised landlords with a paper-thin PR campaign that is little more than ‘charity-washing’.

One disgruntled ex-resident, one of several war veterans staying there, said: “Fuck ‘em. They’ll be first up against the wall come the revolution.”

Freedom, of course, would never condone ruining a perfectly good wall in such a manner.

All the former residents were immediately taken in by the extended squatter community in the local area as they recover from their ordeal. Squatters across London are determined to match every eviction with the expropriation of new buildings, with an increasing number of groups such as the London Makhnovists, Resist Anti Trespass and NFA Queer Punx calling for a ‘summer of anarchy’. There was even a successful resistance to county court bailiffs in Bermondsey last week that was incongruously but briefly attended by former arch-squatter and current fart-in-a-mask Piers Corbyn. Direct action and resistance have never been more urgent as the government continues to persecute the propertyless and drive towards the total criminalisation of trespass and dissent through legislation such as the Police, Crime and Sentencing bill.

Please, whatever you do, do not feel free to comment upon OneHousing and the Lockfather on their social media. That would be outrageous.


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