A group of homeless people in Manchester face jail after pitching tents in the city centre, the latest episode in a long-running battle between the council and an ever increasing number of rough sleepers.
Six men and one woman are due in court in Manchester on Wednesday, accused of breaking a court order brought by Manchester city council and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). This injunction aims to prevent anyone from pitching a tent in the city to protest against the council’s homelessness policies.
The defendants insist they are innocent and that they were not protesting but simply living on the streets as comfortably as they could. The council sees it differently, accusing them of disrupting residents and businesses in the city centre via vandalism, intimidation and public urination. If the defendants lose they face a fine of up to £5,000 or two years in prison.
Some of those named in the court action had been living for over a month in a makeshift homeless centre dubbed the Ark, underneath the Mancunian Way flyover on Oxford Road on land leased by MMU.
Just one of a number of camps which will greet delegates at this weekend’s Tory party conference in the city, the Ark had portable toilets and a TV powered by a generator, as well as furniture and camp beds donated by the general public. A sign out front declared: “This is not a protest.”
The Ark was cleared by bailiffs on 18 September after the MMU and the council obtained a court order. It followed clearances at other tent camps across the city, including outside the Central Library, in the busy shopping area around St Ann’s Square and by Castlefield nightlife district.
On 3 August the council obtained an unusually wide-reaching injunction from Manchester county court. This stated: “Persons are forbidden from erecting and/or occupying tents or any other moveable temporary forms of accommodation for the purposes of or in connection with protests or similar events arising from or connected with the [council’s] homeless policy” within prescribed city limits.
Following the Ark eviction, the university subsequently erected fences around the dry spot under the bridge where homeless people have slept ever since the flyover was built 50 years ago.
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