Updated: Thursday, 23rd November 2017 @ 12:04pm

Manchester homelessness crisis: The Ark shelter plea for support after council 'threat'

Manchester homelessness crisis: The Ark shelter plea for support after council 'threat'

| By Samar Maguire

A homeless shelter on Oxford Road is pleading for public support after it was ordered by Manchester City Council to disperse or prepare to be 'torn apart', claims a humanitarian leader.

The Ark, which resides under Mancunian Way, was built by the homeless and aims to function as a 'self-serving community' for the poor as an alternative to isolation on 'dangerous streets'.

The council are forcing the issue in court on September 7 and 30 as they were granted an injunction in July this year to prevent homeless camps from assembling in the city centre after protestors consistently rallied for 'permanent, suitable accommodation'.

Jennifer Wu, 38, a humanitarian spokesperson for the shelter, argues that the city council have 'enacted chaos' on an innocent population with these 'inhumane' policies.

She told MM: "This is the only emergency homeless shelter in the whole of Manchester! What is the alternative?

"The terms of the injunction are forcing you to live in the street, you are not allowed to come together to form a safe community, or protect yourself with tents.

"But what you’re allowed to do is die in a doorway in a sleeping bag, be constantly moved on, no toilet facilities, not letting people sleep anywhere, vulnerable to violent attack, kicked, verbally abused, pissed on — it’s beyond inhumane, it’s degrading.

"We're trying to create not just a safe environment but a self-supporting community of people.

"And it's not about the people being here just waiting to claim something, but it's providing a shelter for people that need it.

"These are extremely vulnerable people that need different types of support and we're not even able to offer these types of support but we're trying our best."

Footage was obtained by Ms. Wu as she has a confrontation with city council employees on Oxford Road:

The Ark is a self-built shelter assembled by rough sleepers including Ryan Mcphee, a former electrician who lost his job and became homeless.

Mr. Mcphee is known as the homeless man who donated all of his food and essentials money to a passing fundraiser on Oxford Road.

Ms. Wu, a self-proclaimed artist from America that abandoned her job in order to serve the homeless shelter, explains that Ryan's life highlights the wider issue of the 'right to protection'.

"There are about three tents here and one night he [Ryan] was violently attacked while he was sleeping," she said.

"Two guys came and kicked him in the head and dragged him out of his tent. They battered him.

"Two weeks later, there was a second incident where his tent was set on fire and luckily he wasn’t in it. The streets are extremely dangerous.

"A lot of that is down to council neglect. And it’s part of the whole wider problem which is that once you effectively stop becoming a tax paying member of the public, all of your rights to protection are taken away.

"These things are amplified once you become homeless because once you don’t have an address, it’s like you have no protection from anything whatsoever, and if you try and do anything to protect your rights to survive you get punished by the government by imprisonment.

"The most vulnerable people are being sent to the streets, the weak will die and the strong will get sentenced to prison."

Last year, an estimate showed that Manchester had a six-fold increase in street homelessness since 2010. This suggests that an increasing number of people are being forced to find refuge.

But Ms. Wu argues that as the city council 'prioritised land over vulnerable people' in the St. Peter's Square appeal, they have become 'similar to a corporation' — pointing towards council owned properties being scarce in number after an increase in privatisation.

"I went along to the St. Peter's Square court appeal and then it became clear that the Manchester council were acting like a corporation by saying that they could evict the homeless from St. Peters Square because they’re private land owners," she said.

"So I thought, if they’ve got no public responsibility to care for the people and if there’s no protection within the law to make Manchester City Council look after it’s people, and the law is there to protect private property rights, that’s when I realised something incredibly serious is happening.

"They could have found a way to solve this problem, they should have done that. Instead they’re spending a lot of money on legal action.

"Evictions, policing, all the court fees. I don’t know how much they’re paying the solicitors to do all this? The injunctions. 

"They had sought extensive police intelligence about all the members of the camp.

"The council’s been doing things like lying about the makeup of this camp in order to turn the public against the homeless."

Several petitions on saving the Ark have appeared on Change.org and all together received thousands of signatures.

Ms. Wu believes that the only way to surmount council policy is through passionate public support, much akin to the refugee crisis pressure that changed the government's stance on migration.

"The government are doing these things that are atrocious, and are enacting a war on their own people and making life really difficult for the majority of those people," she said.

"Instability, chaos, why should we have to suffer this? Why are they punishing people that are trying to care and look after people?

"There is an actual crisis. If members of the public think that the government are trying to punish something good and are trying to destroy something good, if they think that instead everyone should go die in doorways and stay silent, then what?

"What the Ark is doing here is something that needs to be affirmed so it’s either signing a petition or in some ways letting the council knows of what is going on here.

"This is really, really crucial because if there’s a ground spell of popular support they’re going to have to face up to the vast majority."

Councillor Nigel Murphy, executive member for neighbourhoods, said: "After moving from St Ann's Square and Castlefield, a group of protesters have set up new camps on King Street and off Oxford Road, both of which are in the city centre. 

"We have informed the protestors that they are in breach of the injunction and have now served papers on individuals at both camps.

"As well as this, we have also ensured that papers have been served on both camps telling them they need to leave both sites.

"If they do not, possession orders will be sought immediately.

"Officers from our homelessness team will continue to offer accommodation, help and advice to anyone who needs it. 

"Since April we've engaged with 72 people from the camps, 17 of whom have refused to work with us despite repeated offers of help, 24 of whom have been found accommodation, and nine of whom have refused to take up our offers of accommodation. 

"The remainder had a number of different outcomes - such as drifting away from the camps after our initial engagement or returning to their home towns, while some already had accommodation when they appeared at the camp."

The Ark representatives, including Mr. Mcphee and Ms. Wu, will attend court this Monday regarding possession and eviction.

Image courtesy of David Dixon, with thanks.