Evicted: Squatters who opened a shelter to help rough sleepers

One Housing orders operation to remove Autonomous Winter Shelter

Thursday, 14th April — By Isabelle Stanley

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Belongings pile up on the street outside

BACK out in the cold, 40 homeless people have been evicted from a shelter with all their belongings.

Police and bailiffs smashed down the door of the Autonomous Winter Shelter in Gray’s Inn Road on Thursday morning, turning its residents back out onto the streets.

The shelter was set up in a squat in December by a group of activists trying to bring rough sleepers off the streets in the colder months.

The group stood for hours surrounded by piles of their things stuffed into bin bags, trying to figure out where they could go to avoid sleeping outside.

They said there was a woman pregnant with twins among them, a woman fleeing domestic abuse and many others with mental health disorders.

The New Journal did not see anyone from the council or homeless charities there to help, and the police provided no guidance.

One young woman, Autumn, stood surrounded by carrier bags for three hours.

She said: “We have no plan B, we’ll just have to wander around. We have maybe £5 between us.”

“I wanted to start working, but it’s difficult because I have mental health difficulties, high-level bipolar disorder, which has been really triggered by the eviction.”


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Police came and told the crowd to disperse and the New Journal asked where the police expected them to go.

An officer said: “It’s not up to us where they go, we just have orders to get them out.”

Vaslav, who has been living in the shelter for a few months, said: “It’s been helpful having a permanent place, living on the streets puts pressures on you – you can’t have a job, there’s no stability, you’re sleep-deprived, you’re freezing and it’s dangerous. It has a profound psychological effect.”

As the day progressed, people drifted away, wheeling their things in trolleys.

Unsure where to go, or where they would sleep that night, one man, Viktor, said: “A lot more people will be sleeping on the streets because of this.”

The front door was smashed in

When asked why he had been living in the shelter instead of accessing council services, a young man called Jeff added:

“Hostels are the worst. There are a lot of people with mental health and drug issues and there’s no support. They’re a terrible environment to be in.”

The building had stood empty since 2019 before it was squatted and turned into an unofficial shelter.

The site’s owners, One Housing Group, say they have plans to turn it into a mental health hospital.

When the New Journal first visited the shelter back in January, one of the founders, Kai, who was made homeless when she was 18, said: “The fact that a housing association owns this building and isn’t using it for housing is disgusting when there are people freezing to death on the streets.”


SEE ALSO EVICTION THREAT FOR SQUATTERS WHO SET UP THEIR OWN WINTER HOMELESS SHELTER (2022)


Martin D’Mello, a director at One Housing, said: “We have been clear that the occupation of this building was illegal, potentially dangerous and risked delaying the redevelopment of the site and therefore preventing the delivery of a vital mental health service that will serve hundreds of vulnerable people.

“We worked closely with the police to ensure the eviction proceeded peacefully, safely and occupiers were provided with housing and outreach advice.

“We continue to work with Camden Council to redevelop the site on Gray’s Inn Road to support people with mental health needs. It will help people live well in the community and avoid unnecessary stays in hospital.

“The hostel service that was previously offered at the site by the charity St Mungo’s is now available at a different address in Camden.”

Shelter organsiers in the kitchen, back in January [Guy Smallman/Instagram:@Guy.Smallman]

A council spokesperson said: “Camden Council will always provide advice to anyone who presents as homeless or is at risk of homelessness in our borough.

“Camden Council kept in close contact with One Housing staff and Camden police on the day who were able to provide immediate housing advice and direct people leaving the building to Camden Council for further housing assistance. This included providing information on how they could contact the council’s homelessness prevention service.


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