This morning, around 4:30am, police and bailiffs evicted homeless people from an empty building above BetFred where a night shelter had been set up over Christmas for those sleeping rough in Manchester city centre (see here).
17 people were taking shelter in the building at the time and, after the eviction, one volunteer who was helping out overnight wrote on social media..."Throwing vulnerable people on the streets? Well done Greater Manchester Police; well done Andy Burnham..."
Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham. has pledged to sort all street homeless people out by 2020 but the problem is getting worse and is not confined to Manchester city centre. As the Manchester squat was being evicted, two homeless Salford people were settling into their fourth night at empty offices on Barton Road near Eccles.
The office building is owned by Peel Investments (North) Ltd, part of the Peel Group empire, which, in 2016, got a cheap loan of £8,302,984 from the £300million Greater Manchester Housing Fund (now controlled by Andy Burnham) for its Lightbox apartment block on MediaCityUK, where flats cost up to almost £400,000 (see here).
While Peel were getting public subsidies, one of their latest residents in Eccles, 61 year old John, has been homeless in Salford for around five years, staying in derelict buildings or on the streets...
"I've just finished another course of antibiotics as I keep getting chest infections through this situation" he says "Sometimes I don't know how I've had the courage to endure it, it's been one arduous journey. It has affected me but I've had to be strong and resilient for my babies..."
John's 'babies' are his three dogs, and once word spread of the Eccles squat, donations have poured in from Salford people of dog beds, food and blankets. It's because John wouldn't be parted with his 'babies' that Salford Council's homeless service wouldn't re-house him when he originally lost his City West tenancy.
John, a regular church goer who is looking for work, was evicted after helping what he calls 'the wrong type of people' - addicts and alcoholics – and says he became a victim after he invited them into his home and subsequently lost it.
"I feel privileged that I was around them, to have seen things and experienced things on a different level that would probably shock a lot of people" he says "What goes amiss are the children, the suffering, it's horrible."
After being evicted, John ended up couch surfing, sleeping under a canal bridge and staying at the empty Cross Keys pub in Eccles for four years before new owners took it over. Since then, he's squatted in various places, the latest an empty building almost next to the block of flats from where he was evicted. Bulldozers have now demolished that 'shelter'.
Last week, he was passing the empty Peel offices on Barton Road, noticed the door was open so took shelter there where he was joined by Stuart, who has been homeless since last year, evicted by a private landlord after, again, helping a person in need.
"I brought a homeless man into my home who had been kicked out of his house by Rochdale Council after his mum had passed away" he recalls "He wasn't entitled to live there because it was a four bed house and so he was thrown on the streets with all his possessions, and ended up outside Tesco on Market Street in Manchester.
"He was on drugs and stuff, and I said he couldn't do that in my house as I'd been through drugs issues myself" he adds "I got him off drugs but one of the neighbours phoned up and said I was bringing unsavoury characters back to my house, so the landlord came and kicked me and my friend out."
From there, after a few more episodes, Stuart ended up living on the side of the canal in Eccles last summer, which hit the national press, and then couch surfing or staying at his girlfriend's flat before hooking up with John, firstly in the soon-to-be-demolished building, and now at the Peel Holdings building. He's had a total of just under £150 in benefit payments since last June.
Now the pair and the three dogs have been resident in the Barton Road building since last week, have changed the electricity and gas bills into their names, and regard themselves as guardians of the building, which was open and subject to vandalism before they moved in.
They have legal Section 144 notices on the door warning potential bailiffs that any attempt to enter by violence is a criminal act. Squatting is a civil matter and owners have to get a court order before any eviction can take place.
They have already had a visit from Peel's representatives... "One said to me 'Do you know who you are messing with? The big boys; the billionaire who owns the property?'" Stuart recalls "I said 'I am aware who owns the property; we have rights to stay here, if the landlord is a billionaire why can't he help us out with a property?'"
Peel certainly won't be offering them one of their luxury, publicly-subsidised apartments at MediaCityUK. Meanwhile, Stuart is currently 25th down on the Salford housing waiting list.
"I think it's ridiculous" he says "And it's only going to get worse. Through no fault of their own, people are getting into arrears and they are going to end up on the street as well, with families. It can't carry on like this.
"Being homeless affects your physical health, mental wellbeing, everything really" he adds "Something's got to give. They can't keep doing this to everybody. The general public will eventually end up turning around at some point and saying 'This is a problem'..."
...And, as that problem gets worse, councils have to open up their empty buildings, or more and more people are just going to take over private empty buildings.
It's that or the streets.
See also previous Salford Star article – 5 Empty Buildings that Salford City Council Should Open For the Homeless – click here