By Jamie Oliver
On Tuesday 20th October High Court bailiffs arrived to dismantle the self-built homeless shelter under the Mancunian Way, next to the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) campus. The move came after University bosses were given a second possession order granted by the High Court.
Approximately six people had resettled meters away from where The Ark was originally built a few months ago, and the settlement was regarded by Manchester City Council as “a form of protest” against MMU’s initial appeal. The camp members had clashed with police and bailiffs the first time they were removed.
The bailiffs arrived with a disposal truck, throwing sleeping bags and tents into it with the permission of the camp members. MMU were also collecting possessions and stored them behind the metal fence erected when The Ark was first dismantled.
A spokesperson for MMU said that all of the possessions collected by the University would be made available for collection by the camp members. They said: “All members of the protest group were allowed adequate time to remove their personal possessions and larger items have been safely secured for retrieval within seven days.”
The evening before the eviction saw many people gathered outside All Saint’s Park to protest the plans to dismantle The Ark. Protesters were fired up as the crowd began to form, clearly enthused by their cause.
Student Action in Solidarity with the Homeless (SASH) led the protest with impassioned speeches on the issue of homelessness in the city. This included informing the crowds of the action taken by Manchester City Council against rough sleepers; forcing individuals to move as far away from the city centre as Whitworth Park.
A representative for SASH stated: “The University is only concerned with image of themselves and profiting”. They stated MMU bosses did not want potential future students to see the reality of the homelessness problem in Manchester, which would taint the image of the University.
A homeless woman who was camping in The Ark bravely stood up and shed light on the story of a homeless new mother being harassed by social services who were “trying to take her child away”. She talked about the successes of striking for humanitarian issues in the past, and proposed a new form of striking; “All students should withhold their payments to University… that will make them listen”. This was met by much support from fellow protestors.
A chair of SASH led the gathering to the All Saints Café building after rumours that the offices of the MMU bosses were situated above. The chant “Shame on you, MMU” echoed around the All Saints building, and were mainly directed at the financial department of MMU.
Although the chant was shouted loudly and aggressively, the organisers stressed that “it is not directed at the staff or the lecturers doing a great job at MMU, but the bosses that are only concerned with profits”.
In reaction to the protest, a spokesperson for MMU said that “If the passion that SASH had in the protests could be put into working with registered charities for this issue, it would be much more effective”.
Rosa Methol, joint chair of SASH when asked about why she supports the homeless community, said: “The homeless are desperately lacking in support. Numbers of homeless people are rising whilst shelters are closing and Manchester is in crisis.”
When asked why she thinks MMU is pushing to evict this homeless community, she said: “I think MMU has made a mistake. They wrongly assumed that their staff and students would prefer to have homelessness swept under the rug… In reality, students and staff come out repeatedly to support The Ark”.
In a final statement, Rosa added: “I’d like to say to MMU that there is still time to redeem themselves by utilising its extensive resources in helping to create an alternative homeless shelter in Manchester.” On this issue; MMU raised the concern that they are not legally or financially able to just provide a shelter for them, due to the risk involved and would rather offer the homeless assistance through a more formal and secure means.
A spokesperson for MMU addressed the issues that students have raised about the reasons for the eviction, stating: “The University has an overriding duty of care to both staff and students. There have been a number of serious incidents including violent attacks, abuse and threats to staff”. They also added; “The eviction was necessary because of safety issues that have raised by the presence of the camp.”
When asked about what efforts MMU will be making to provide shelter for the residents of The Ark; a spokesperson answered; “We have been working closely with Manchester City Council’s Homelessness Team. Some of the residents of the camp have accepted offers of accommodation, and others have been referred to the Cornerstone Centre in Salford”.
The homeless continue to camp under Mancunian Way, and the issue is still ongoing.
Jamie is studying multimedia journalism. He is interested in learning about new cultures.