Homeless campaigners squat Brum council house

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Sep 9 22:41:32 BST 2012

Homeless campaigners squat council house

UK Indymedia | 30.08.2012 15:33 | Public sector 
cuts | Social Struggles | Birmingham

Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group have 
occupied an abandoned council house with the 
intention of handing it over to a homeless 
person. They've contacted the council and 
demanded that they put the property back into use 
as low cost social housing and then do the same 
with the other nearly 12,000 empty properties 
around the city. Otherwise they have said that 
despite changes to the law on squatting they will 
continue with occupations of the other empty 
properties with the intention of handing them 
over to the homeless. With 11,924 empty 
properties, the highest rate of homelessness in 
the country and an estimate by city planners that 
Birmingham is currently short of 11,000 
affordable homes, putting the abandoned houses 
back into use is the only logical step

Previous Features: Birmingham's Homeless Crises

On the newswire: Tenants & Homeless seize 
abandoned council house | Birmingham Tenants & 
Homeless Action Group - What we are doing | 
Squatting sleepover! Homeless but not helpless! | 
Police arresting homeless in Birmingham | First 
eviction protest for B.E.R.N | VIDEO Birmingham 
Eviction Resistance Network first eviction 
protest | Birmingham Eviction Resistance Network 
meeting | Food not Bombs every Sunday at Holloway 
Circus | VIDEO FNB in Victoria Square

Links: Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group 
| Birmingham Eviction Resistance Network | Birmingham Food not Bombs

On Sunday 26th August Birmingham Food not Bombs 
reported after their weekly food distribution 
that the number of homeless attending the 
distribution had dropped from 30 to less than 10. 
They discovered that the police had been 
following them around and arresting them for 
begging, with one person reporting six of his 
friends being arrested in total that week. This 
was all part of an ongoing operation by West 
Midlands Police that started back in June to 
crack down on begging in Birmingham city centre. 
At the time the group criticised the action of the police saying

"Harassing and arresting the homeless for begging 
is counter-productive; time in prison only makes 
the homeless less employable and more marginalised."

A few days before this incident the group had 
posted a report detailing the housing crises that 
is currently affecting the country’s second city 
which has the highest rate of homelessness in the 
country and has increased by 25% since 2009. 
During that same period spending on homelessness 
decreased by 29% with many shelters and charities 
struggling to cope. City planners estimate 
Birmingham is currently short of 11,000 
affordable homes but this is set to rise to 
70,000 short by 2026. On top of all this the 
situation is set to get a lot worse as changes to 
housing benefit start to have an effect. In 
Birmingham 34,500 housing benefit claimants will 
be chasing 23,000 low-cost houses. That’s 11,500 
people who could end up without a home. In July 
this year the government declared that many of 
Birmingham’s families would lose around 20% of 
their council tax relief. This will add between 
£200-£500 per year to many household expenses. 
With rent in the private sector continuing to 
increase inevitably those struggling to pay the 
rent will find themselves facing eviction. The 
final ingredient to this cocktail is that from 
the 1st September squatting in residential 
properties is set to become illegal as Section 
144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment 
of Offenders Act 2012 comes into effect. For many 
people squatting is the only way to ensure they 
have a roof over their heads, the new law wont 
stop everyone from squatting, all it will do is 
further victimise society's most vulnerable by 
giving them a criminal record, or condemn them to 
a life on the streets. The government ignored its 
own consultation in which 95% of responses didn’t 
want to see any action taken on squatting and all 
debates in parliament on the proposed changes 
where held so late that real debate never 
happened. The new law will cost the taxpayer £790 million in the first 5 years
That mean taxpayers will be paying £790 million 
to fund the enforcement a law that keeps the 
homeless on the streets where many of them will 
die, the average life expectancy of people living 
of the street is just 47, 30 years shorter than the average population.

In light of this activists from Food not Bombs, 
Birmingham Eviction Resistance Network and other 
grass-roots groups formed the Birmingham Tenants 
and Homelessness Action Group. In the early hours 
of Monday 27th the group seized one of 
Birmingham’s 11,000 empty properties. The group 
is doing up the property to hand over to a 
homeless person. They say the council, which owns 
the property, should put it back into use 
immediately as social housing. They have vowed to 
defend the property and its resident and will 
take the council to court if they apply for an 
eviction. In court they will demand that the 
council take over operation of the house, add it 
to their council housing stock and allow its 
resident to stay. If that fails they have 
promised to resist any bailiffs should they be 
sent to evict the resident. Although they would 
prefer the council to use the money that would 
otherwise be spent on trying to evict them on 
sorting out the city’s housing crisis.

John Holland, 25, said “A roof over your head 
should be a right. Over 11,000 houses are lying 
empty; – this place mustn’t be left empty when it could house a family.”

There are over 11,000 empty homes in Birmingham 
2.8% of the entire property stock and even more 
abandoned land. The group is demanding that the 
council seize as many of these abandoned houses 
as possible and put them back into use as low 
cost social housing. The group has vowed that 
until that happens and despite changes to the law 
regarding squatting they will continue to seize 
the properties and put them back into use themselves.

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