Eviction raises questions over Manchester Mayor’s homelessness campaign

New Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s pledge to help street homeless people as a major plank of his candidacy seems to have gone off the rails after his office failed to actively respond to protests over the eviction of a self-organised occupied space in the centre of the city.

Around 40 people squatting at the Hotspur Press building off Whitworth Street were violently evicted and made homeless earlier this week, shortly after Burnham had called on private businesses to open the doors of vacant plots to alleviate the city’s rising street homeless crisis.

The building, which has maintained strong links with the more publicly-known Cornerhouse Cinema squat, was a major support space for the homeless community and its eviction prompted a protest on Thursday which included a slow walk on Burnham’s office — the mayor has recently been busy with his “digital Manchester drive.”

But as footage captured by Established Beyond showed, while protesters gathered in solidarity with the squatters, who have been made homeless on the street with their belongings, an agitated attending police officer reacted violently to the situation. Officer 2553 can be seen dragging a woman across the street in a headlock. Other activists were quick to try help her, but little could be done against a barrier of bailiffs.

In a statement, Manchester Activist Network said:

The solution is not through bailiff force and police arrests over a building that has provided shelter for 40 people. Yesterday’s actions only succeeded in making more people homeless, with unnecessary and violent arrests of peaceful protesters.

And Greater Manchester Housing Action said:

This is not the kind of action this city needs to address its ongoing housing crisis.

The squatting of empty buildings is often a last resort for desperate people, unable to find a secure home due to a devastating lack of secure tenancies, decent housing and stable employment opportunities. By evicting squats, the police, bailiffs and council are only serving to make the situation worse for people with nowhere else to go.

The city of Manchester has a well documented homelessness crisis, which has its origins in policy decisions made at both a national and city level. An unwillingness by council leaders to build the social housing that people need, the slashing of homelessness support due to austerity, and the damaging changes to the benefits system brought in by the Coalition government are all factors which have led to this crisis.

We condemn the eviction and stand in solidarity with those who have just been made homeless. We believe that turning 40 more people onto the streets in order to prepare the ground for luxury redevelopments is not the solution, and instead call for renewed construction of social housing, action to cap rent in the private sector and make long term tenancies the norm and a housing first approach to the homelessness crisis.