Statement from the Autonomous Winter Shelter crew:
Following the violent eviction on 1st June 2023 by the Metropolitan Police, the Autonomous Winter Shelter collective, based in Shadwell, is taking a break from its public-facing activities after an incredibly busy seven months. We are all dealing with the consequences of this eviction differently, and some of us need time to recover both physically and mentally.
We are enormously grateful to everyone who was also a part of the project, supporting and defending it. There will be new, unseen opportunities to continue our work, and at the very least, to support people close to us, who we’ve met along the way. Everybody evicted has already been rehoused or found alternative accommodation. We need to keep showing up for each other when faced with the devastating
consequences of inequality and injustice. As long as buildings lie empty and people require shelter, the need for all of us to take autonomy over our living situation will remain.
We need to put our ideals into action.
In November 2022, we occupied the Convent of Mercy, previously residences of the Sisters of Mercy, which had laid empty for some time. Prior to us, the neighbourhood was concerned that the historic convent would continue to lay dormant, deteriorate and/or be converted into luxury flats by opportunist property moguls.
Over seven months, we turned it into a necessary centre for the community, hosting a pay-what-you-can cafe, shared dinners, a free-shop, workshops, films, meetings, and, primarily, shelter for the unhoused. As the heart of our small network of Autonomous Shelters, we welcomed countless vulnerable individuals and those supportive of our cause into the space. Even at capacity, it was a place to discuss alternative housing options in our other shelters and provide clothes, food, advice, or even just a hot beverage.
The Autonomous Winter Shelter on 88 Hardinge Street stood as a stable and welcoming beacon of the community, until, on the 30th of April 2023, a letter from the police made accusations that the premises were not protected under Section 144a of the LASPO law. Circumventing the courts, the police threatened to intervene in what would amount to an inappropriate and unlawful overreach of their powers.
“If you do not vacate the building within twenty one (21) days … then the Metropolitan Police Service will take further action and you may be subject to arrest.”
With efforts from the Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS), housing solicitors and each other, a response was made advising the police of our legal position in occupying the convent and the transparent legal recourse available in the courts, if they wished to remove us under the very laws they claim to uphold. We were fully prepared to take the matter to court and in front of a judge as we’ve done before.
After three weeks of no meaningful response from the police, we finally received word on the morning of 1st June. The response, just as vague and lacking in legal reasoning as their initial letter, ended on a haunting note.
“In conclusion, police believe that an offence has been committed … The occupiers will
be given an opportunity to collate their belongings and vacate the premises.”
Very shortly after the response was received, several police vans arrived on our doorstep, convoying dozens of officers decked out in riot gear. Lining up in tactical formation on the street, residents of the shelter and local neighbourhood alike witnessed the police at their ‘finest’, a gross demonstration of militaristic authority.
A callout was made for urgent support; with supporters from the neighbourhood and all across London coming to our aid. Threatened with violence and arrest, we endured scuffles with riot police while residents in the building were being brutally evicted.
People were dragged out of their rooms, afforded little time to gather up belongings, and physically escorted out. Additional cops were called in as supporters contested the heavy-handed police action. Batons were raised against our comrades in response, merely by arguing for due process and supporting those of us struggling.
Using a Section 35 dispersal order, heavy police presence was enforced while crowds were escorted away. Patrolling the streets proudly in riot gear, the bailiffs of the state seemed satisfied starting their morning making people in a shelter homeless.
We will continue to take a stand against the cost of living crisis and the authoritarian police whose priority lies in protecting the capital of those in power, who seem threatened when the people take action to solve crisis themselves.
We invite you to join us, in any way that you feel able to, as we reject the current state of affairs, and make not just our voices heard, but our actions felt.
Squat the lot.
Email us – [email protected]
Image: Guy Smallman