In another Dickensian turn for Greater Manchester, landowner Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) evicted residents of The Ark 2 and destroyed the shelter that had been created for the region's street homeless this morning.
With the number of rough sleepers in the city centre seemingly on the increase the eviction seemed cruel to the many people present this morning, as one protester labelled MMU 'a dark satanic university'.
"I lived in the camp for two months" said Quintino Aiello, a resident of The Ark "For the first few weeks the camp really helped me. After that I stayed there to help out other homeless people. It's the second time they have kicked us out. Both times they have done it without following any procedures. They just turned up at 7am and said `You've got half an hour to get out'. I feel frustrated because I see the police and they don't work in the middle for both sides, they just work for Manchester Metropolitan University. They don't care."
During the eviction there were clear signs that the team removing the settlement were causing damage to property belonging to residents of The Ark 2. Understandably distressed by this, one of the residents Ryan McPhee was arrested as he tried to recover his property.
Jackson Gadd and Rosa Methol, students at MMU witnessed the arrest and explained what happened...
"MMU have come again to evict homeless people that are living on their land and they have arrested Ryan, a homeless person who made this place his home. They didn't make it clear on what grounds they arrested him. They said something about a breach of the peace. But he was just trying to get his stuff back, which they are likely to throw away.
"There has been a complete lack of communication today between the police and the public" they explained "No one is giving out information about who they are and their behaviour suggests they know what they are doing is wrong and it feels very threatening.
"This is a horrible and sad day, and this would not have happened if they had just allowed them to stay where they were" they added "They should be following in the footsteps of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs who have said that the homeless people can stay in their Grade 2 listed building over the winter. I'm really shocked that MMU can't even manage to let them stay on a tiny bit of their unused land."
There appears to be a growing resistance amongst students to the actions of MMU. Today's eviction of The Ark 2 follows a previous eviction of The Ark last month (see here). Last night over 150 students turned up to a demonstration organised by Student Action in Solidarity with the Homeless (SASH) at All Saints Park but sadly their protest has fallen on deaf ears.
"A demonstration was called last night to increase the profile amongst students about what is going on at The Ark and the possession order that was served by MMU as well as the constant hounding of The Ark and of homeless people in the city by the City Council" said John Neill, an MMU student. .
"Obviously The Ark was not a protest, it was somewhere for people to feel safe and somewhere for people to live" he added "Alan Kane, the head of MMU security and his team were stood watching our protest yesterday and it was no surprise to see them here this morning laughing and joking whilst they were tearing down people's homes.
"You have to bear in mind that this is the same MMU management that is quite happy to make a fortune out of students whilst cutting their services and providing appalling standards of accommodation, and the same Manchester City Council that is cutting services and which turfed out hundreds of homeless people in April last year when they shut their refuges" he explained "We are not surprised by their actions but we are disgusted by it. We want to make a point that is very clear to the people of The Ark, the homeless people of Manchester and the general population that the management of MMU do not represent the students and lecturers of MMU because we are totally opposed to what they are doing."
Deyika Nzeribe a local resident spoke about the hypocrisy of MMU and the City Council…
"This feels like the first cold day of the year and what are MMU and the City Council doing?" he asked "It's not just that Manchester City Council are banning homeless people, it is them saying 'You can't gather together...you are ok as long as you are on your own in doorways but if you try to gather together for protection, we won't let you do that'.
"It's pathetic, the City Council and MMU laud themselves for their 'corporate social responsibility'; MMU had a community day on Sunday telling everyone about all the great work they are doing in the community and yet two days later they are doing this" he added "Last month the City Council, when everyone was concerned about refugees, said refugees are welcome in Manchester in huge numbers, but look at what they are doing to homeless people. I'm not sure if it is pathetic or rank hypocrisy. What do they expect homeless people to do?
"Richard Lees has a blog on Manchester City Council website; he actually wrote that he has a plan for homelessness. I guess this is part of that plan" he said "There is actually positive stuff that can be done. If resources are lacking I don't feel that you have to throw huge amounts of money at it for it to work. You can actually help people with halfway houses, or if they find a way of gathering together give them a little bit of extra support and make their lives a little bit more safe and comfortable, and maybe use the police to protect the most vulnerable rather than treat them like this."
So whilst Salford and Manchester Councils are wining and dining with wealthy landowners at MIPIM UK (see here), telling the world about the financial incentives of their Northern Powerhouse initiative and how it is a 'magnet for growth' for the region, back in reality The Northern Poorhouse is dismantling the homes of the most vulnerable in society and evicting them back onto the streets.
* See also previous Salford Star article - Manchester Metropolitan University prepares to evict homeless camp while housing Homeless Film Festival - click here
Words and photos by Steven Speed