Wednesday 13 July 2011

Guest Blog - Is Squatting really a lifestyle choice

By Hildegarde,

Well that’s what the papers would have you believe – do you really believe that? They’re changing the law to make squatters criminals from next year. So that’s really going to help the homeless isn’t it?
When I was student I lived in a tenement block in London, I got to know the neighbours, they were squatters, they were invited into the area by the council because it was becoming run down and a no go area. They spent their own money doing up the places, paid their bills – then the council changed their mind and started raiding the flats and evicting people.

Squatting or a life on the street? I volunteer for a charity at Christmas, at the shelter where I work we have had a good re-housing rate at the end of the Christmas period, that wasn’t the case this year. This year was the worst it has ever been, we had to return more people than ever back to the street as there is no emergency accommodation available. Read the papers, the Justice Minister Crispin Blunt says “There are options open to those who are genuinely destitute and need shelter which do not involve occupying somebody else’s property without authority”. If that is really the case why would a homeless charity return people back to the street if there were options, these people do not choose to be homeless. This year at the charity, we could not find a single, young, girl housing; she was not considered a priority, so what is the definition of a priority? We had very limited choices did we just let her walk away not knowing what was going to happen to her or recommend a squat, a place where someone who had volunteered at the shelter knew the people and knew that she would be safe, not preyed on by strangers but safe and warm. We told her about the squat and gave her the details – this was how she spent her New Year.

Most squatters don’t move into someone’s main residence, they move into empty houses, houses that aren’t occupied every night – secondary homes, empty office blocks. The new laws are there to protect those with second homes or developers – surely it is better to see people off the street and making use of empty buildings. Look around the area where you live – how many empty properties are there that could be done up and be offered to those that would truly benefit? It is cheaper to do up a property than build new housing. There is a desperate need for affordable housing, especially in London. Criminalising people is not the answer – why not ask them to donate some of their time to help repair a property with a view that they can move into it afterwards. In these hard economic times people, councils need to look at new ways to solve old problems. Homelessness is not going to go away, not in this climate. Moving the homeless from squats into prison isn’t going to help either and will just present these people more mountains to climb and removing many job opportunities – this will not resolve the problem.

So is squatting a lifestyle choice – I don’t think so and I know, if it was, it wouldn’t be one that I would choose – would you?
The Barnet Eye always welcomes guest blogs. Hildegarde is a volunteer for a homeless charity and a good friend of this blog

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1 comment:

N16Sue said...

Spot on. This is yet another front opened up in the plan to remove poorer people from central London and similar area. Coming after the housing benefit changes it's clear to see that either there is no understanding of the housing situations many people find themselves in or they just don't care.