A city without issues? Closure of The Ark ‘arrogant’ attempt to hide Manchester homeless problem, says uni protester

Students from Manchester Metropolitan University yesterday came together to protest against the eviction of homeless people from The Ark shelter under Mancunian Way.

The university sparked controversy when private security and bailiffs, acting on its behalf, evicted the homeless people last Friday.

Those living at the shelter claimed they were ‘dragged out’ of their tents ‘while they were half-asleep’.

The organisers of yesterday’s protest estimate that more than 50 students gathered outside All Saints Park at lunchtime, calling for an end to the ‘social cleansing of Oxford Road’ by the uni.

‘SHAME ON YOU’: More than 50 students gathered to protest The Ark’s closure (© Carina Ripley)

Jackson Gadd, a 22-year-old second-year student and organiser of the protest, says he had never organised a protest before.

He got involved after volunteering at the shelter and witnessing ‘how violently and inhumanely’ the eviction was carried out.

Jackson told MM: “To see homeless people trying to make their situation better having that taken away from them was devastating.

“Our protest came about from seeing the results of the eviction and how the homeless people had nowhere else to go.

“It was shocking to learn that there’s not that much help available and that when they try to help themselves that it’s taken away from them as well.”

The shelter was setup in August as a ‘self-serving community’ for Manchester’s homeless, but was involved in legal battle with Manchester City Council and Manchester Metropolitan University, leading to a possession order being granted by the High Court.

‘RECONSIDER’: The protest comes after 69 MMU staff signed a letter asking the uni to rethink their actions (© Rosa Methol)

The protest comes after 69 members of university staff voiced opposition to the eviction by signing an open letter urging the university to ‘reconsider its approach’ to the shelter.

And after Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs for homeless charity Crisis, called the eviction ‘disturbing’.

Jackson said: “I think what MMU’s done is a disgrace. They present themselves as a university who are involved in the community, but whenever I see lecturers talking from MMU and posters about ‘lending a helping hand’, now all I see is hypocrisy

“Help isn’t available for the homeless people in Manchester, nobody extends them a helping hand.”

He feels that the dismantling of The Ark displays the ‘arrogance’ of MMU in thinking they can pretend Manchester is a city without problems.

‘DISGRACE’: Student Jackson Gadd said that this is the uni’s attempt to hide Manchester’s issues (© Rosa Methol)

He said: “[The eviction was carried out] the day before fresher and I think it shows an arrogance on MMU’s part to think that they can just dismantle The Ark to make it appear to their students as a city without issues.

“Fresher’s was the reason they did it, at the time that they did it.

“But now what they have in fresher’s week is protests and signs, and information going around spreading the truth of what MMU did. Which was tear down a homeless shelter for no reason.

“The entire thing was carried out with no humanity, no compassion.”

A petition to save The Ark has attracted over 3,500 signatures, with founder Ryan McPhee insisting the shelter was intended as a way of providing shelter, food and accommodation for Manchester’s homeless.

However, the council and university have argued that the shelter was intended to be ‘a protest’ and that the homeless people living at the shelter have refused offers of help.

PRIORITIES: The university’s Vice-Chancellor said their main focus is to ensure their students’ safety (© Rosa Methol)

A statement, issued to students and staff by MMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Malcolm Press, said: “I would like to reassure you that the university continues to work closely with Manchester City Council as well as other support agencies in the city in order to ensure that the needs of those facing homelessness in Manchester are addressed.

“My utmost priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff, and to maintain the safety and integrity of our estate.

“I remain deeply concerned that the way this camp was operating, and now seems to be continuing, neither respects our rights, nor provides adequate or legitimate support for those in need.

“For these reasons, the university will continue to seek ways in which the protestors can be removed from our estate.

“Whilst doing this, we remain sensitive to wider issues associated with homelessness in our city.

“I would like to reassure you that we are committed to working with the appropriate agencies to ensure that every measure is taken to meet genuine needs and alleviate the problem of homelessness.”

NOT GIVING UP: Jackson said yesterday’s protesters will continue to oppose the uni’s decision to close down The Ark (© Rosa Methol)

But Jackson said the organisers of yesterday’s protest will continue to oppose the university’s actions and to ‘inspire students to help the homeless and not just walk past them ignoring them or give them a couple of pennies when they’re drunk’.

“You can tell that Manchester has a big problem with homelessness and The Ark was something built out of sheer necessity,” he said.

“It wasn’t a protest, it wasn’t anti-social, it wasn’t anything that MMU or the council claimed it to be. It was a safe refugee built by the homeless for the homeless, because they had no other option.” 

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