Housing

Homeless saved from 'certain death' during Beast from the East face eviction

Susan Sarandon-backed eviction battle fails as another cold snap looms

homelessness and rough sleeping

More than 160 rough sleepers who sheltered from February’s snow and freezing temperatures in a derelict building in London are now facing eviction because the building’s management is developing the four-storey space into 32 luxury apartments.

The Great Portland Street building, known as the Sofia Solidarity Centre, became one of London’s largest homeless shelters after the Beast from the East battered the UK last month and was set up by grassroots group Streets Kitchen.

Actress Susan Sarandon called for London mayor Sadiq Khan to step in after the rough sleepers were ordered to vacate the temporary homeless shelter.

Supporters rallied being the group with a 3,000-plus-strong petition and a social media campaign to convince Khan to intervene.

Even Sarandon, who paid tribute to Hollywood icon and amateur inventor Hedy Lamarr in The Big Issue earlier this month, took to Twitter to add her support, saying: “I visited last week and saw the people whose lives they are saving first hand. They need your support right now, not an eviction notice.”

Despite the calls, a full possession order was awarded to the building owner W1 Developments, which is planning to turn it into 32 luxury apartments, at London County Court on March 14. The order means that residents can be evicted at any time and sent back to the streets just as temperatures are forecasted to drop in London once again – the Met Office has issued amber warnings for snow and ice in the English capital over the weekend.

John Glackin, Streets Kitchen founder, said: “We are feeling very, very disappointed and a feeling of anger that we are looking at putting 160 people back on to the streets – especially with the cold weather returning. It’s traumatic.

“We can be evicted at any time and I’m not sure there are enough beds in Westminster for people to have somewhere to go. There is no doubt in my mind that we have saved certain death on the streets of London.”

The row has ignited the debate on how empty buildings are treated in the UK – The Big Issue launched the Fill ‘Em Up campaign in 2015 to highlight how dilapidated and derelict buildings can be brought back into use to help dismantle poverty.

London mayor Khan said: “Rough sleeping has doubled under this government and still ministers are failing to invest or take proper measures to tackle the root causes of homelessness. It’s shocking that some people sleeping rough feel they have no other option than to sleep in a derelict building – ministers have simply got to do more to invest in services that provide a warm bed and a proper route off the streets for good.

“My team have spoken to Westminster Council and made sure help is at hand, and we have made a direct offer of my “No Second Night Out” service as an extra protection for those rough sleepers when they are moved on from Great Portland Street.

“I am funding services across London with record levels of investment and using the powers I have at City Hall to their fullest extent, but I can’t tackle this crisis alone. The government must step up and played its part in helping people rough sleeping, wherever they are from.”

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