Manchester homeless camp could face prison

Members of the Manchester homeless camp are due in court next week and could face a large fine or even prison.

Seven people are accused of breaching an injunction which prevents people sleeping in tents to protest against the city council's homeless policy.

The injunction was granted in July after earlier attempts by the council to evict the camp from prominent locations in the city centre resulted in the group just moving to new areas.

But members of the camp say that what started as a protest back in April is now about safety and shelter.

"We are not protesting now. We feel safer sleeping in tents and sticking together. We know people who have been attacked, spat on and even set on fire while they were sleeping alone in shop doorways. We are safer this way," Ryan McPhee, a member of the group, said.

On Friday the camp was once again dismantled, this time after Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) won a possession order allowing them to remove the rough sleepers from a site called The Ark which is on land leased by the University.

The site was a little different to previous ones, nestled under a flyover in central Manchester, the group referred to it as a homeless shelter. Thanks largely to donations from local people, there was a generator meaning they could watch television, portaloos, a kitchen area, cleaning products and a sofa for them to sit on.

Simon Pook of Robert Lizar solicitors who is representing some of the group says The Ark became a sanctuary for some of the city's homeless people.

"This is not just a legal issue, it is a social issue. You do not solve the problem of homelessness just by moving it on. We are concerned that the equality act has not been fully extended to the rough sleepers," Pook said.

There were upsetting scenes as bailiffs entered the site early on Friday morning with some members being carried out of their tents after refusing to leave.

An open letter signed by academics at the university condemned the action saying they were concerned at the message it sent to students and called on MMU bosses to provide support to the homeless people.

In a statement the university said they had "worked with the council and support agencies to understand the complex nature of the situation and had satisfied themselves that their actions would not be detrimental to genuine causes and individual needs.

They added: "As a university we work through multiple established channels to support homeless people in Manchester and the causes that can precipitate this. We actively work in many areas to help local people."