Campaign squats hit Leicester and Oxford as Apollo House resists eviction

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Pic: Iffley Road

Campaigners against homelessness in Leicester have shifted from the city’s Jubilee Square to the grounds of its oldest medieval house as the weather gets more damp and cold, calling for the government to end its deadly cuts to support services.

The Leicester Homelessness Party group’s action comes just days after another group, Wadham Help Homeless, occupied an empty campus space owned by Oxford University making similar points — and as the Dublin occupation of Apollo House dispute rumbles on.

Protesters say they intend to squat next to the Leicester Council-owned Wygston’s House, sited on the edge of Jubilee square, until “central government  actually does something meaningful to help homeless people who are dying on the streets.” Thegroup said they had moved to the more secure location because “homeless people sleeping here are still being threatened — we are being told out tents will be petrol bombed while we sleep inside them.”

Wadham space

In Oxford meanwhile, a building on Iffley Road vancant since 2015, has been taken over by 14 people who say they are desperate since the council reduced its funding for homeless support by 38% in the face of central cutbacks — 236 beds have gone or are set to be lost over the next 12 months.

In a petition to Wadham and leaseholders Midcounties Co-op, the group said:

We are requesting the building remain open as a shelter for just three months – at which point the owners plan to demolish the buildings and redevelop the site.

This action is in response to the rising number of rough sleepers in Oxford, up 50% in the last year, whilst central government cuts force the closure of homeless services across the city. By the end of 2018 further decommissioning of services will result in a loss of more than 260 beds since early 2016.

Apollo

Meanwhile in Dublin, The Workers Solidarity Movement reports that yesterday lunchtime the campaigning squat was ordered by the High Court to leave the building immediately or face arrest.  In response hundreds of people came down the the long vacant office block and formed a human chain around it. We were there and recorded the entire chain as it surrounded the block.

A WSM member who was present penned the following thoughts:

Apollo House is the single point of light that emerged from an otherwise dismal year, a centennial year of significance, which gave us so little to be proud of. Homelessness, in spite of being a significant symptom of all that is wrong in our society, is both ignored and tolerated. Fortunately the sight of the homeless masses did not get in the way of the centenary celebrations of what a great little republic we have grown up to be.

The actions of the Irish Housing Network and the alliance of supporters which has become known as Home Sweet Home, has taken over an ugly brutalist building and former dole office on Tara Street, and gave homeless people hope of a fresh start. What it has also done is shone a light on the inhumane bureaucratic approach of this to dealing with people who live on the streets. Getting people who have no bed for the night, to phone a free phone number in order to secure one for a single night, only to be thrown back out into the dark pre-dawn streets to do it all again the next day. Apollo House is the golden lamp that emerges from 2016 – and that’s why it has touched the people of Ireland, and been so massively supported. It is an example of what this state should do to support the dispossessed, and would have been a far more fitting tribute than having parades or concerts.