A group of homeless people who established a hostel in a vacant doctors’ surgery are facing possession proceedings by NHS Property Limited, who are seeking to evict them. The Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) are providing the homeless people with legal representation. On Thursday 31stJanuary, a Manchester County Court Judge ordered that the homeless people were to be removed from the hostel within five days. On Friday 1stFebruary, GMLC successfully applied for a stay, meaning that the homeless people can remain inside, and a decision will be made at a later hearing.
The Eccles Shelter
In November 2018, homeless people and volunteers created a hostel, known as The Eccles Shelter, in a doctor’s surgery that had been vacant for nine years. Local community members and organisations such as the Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre, Salford Street Support and the Salvation Army have given food parcels and daily support.
There are currently around 14 men and women staying in The Eccles Shelter. Residents have been provided with beds, the flu-jab and support from a substance misuse support organisation who visited the Shelter. Other residents and volunteers have assisted others with benefits, registration for doctors and dentists, registering bank accounts, finding employment and securing move-on accommodation. The hostel has liaised with the local council and other agencies, including arranging for a fire safety inspection.
One resident of The Eccles Shelter, who was street-homeless before moving in to the hostel, said outside court on Thursday 31stJanuary: “We are getting people doctors, benefits, papers. That’s what I thought this country was about, getting our rights.”
Another resident, 32-year-old Stacey Martindale, says of the community support: “It’s giving us back our humanity Between us we are helping each other to rebuild our lives.”
NHS Property Limited is a private company established to deal with the NHS estate and with a single share-holder, the Secretary of State for Health, and they are seeking to sell the building.
GMLC Solicitor Kathleen Cosgrove says: “The decision of His Honour Judge Nigel Bird to stay the eviction gives The Eccles Shelter a chance to continue their fight to be allowed to defend the proceedings and for their evidence to be heard before a final decision is made. At this stage this is all we are asking for.
“We are hopeful that the NHS may agree, but if not our, appeal application will be listed for a further hearing.
“Given the importance and complexity of the decision for the court, we really hope we are given the opportunity for a full and fair hearing, but right now we don’t know what the result will be. It’s in the hands of the NHS and the court.”
Outside of the court proceedings, The Eccles Shelter, Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre, Salford Street Support and GMLC are appealing to local authorities to find alternatives to eviction. Organisations who have been contacted include Salford Council, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.
In a press release following Thursday’s hearing, NHS Property Limited stated: “There is alternative accommodation. […] We do hope that the occupants will take up the offer of accommodation from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s homeless team”
However, Angela Barrett, a support worker helping the Eccles Shelter, says “sometimes the residents can’t go to the shelters they are told to go to because of their mental health or because of other problems.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham pledged ‘A Bed Every Night’ for homeless people throughout the winter months. GMLC Development Worker Roz Burgin says, “the Bed Every Night scheme is a great start which shows ambition we can all support, but the criteria for access and the type of provision available means that many homeless people remain excluded. People with complex needs can’t always take a bed in a shared room with strangers, a chair in a reception area or unsupported bed and breakfast many miles away.
“We need to admit that we have a long way to go, and homeless people and their communities need to be at the forefront of the fight to end rough sleeping and homelessness”
One Shelter resident explains, “you can’t have a bed before you have safety, and this means mentally feeling safe.”