Riot cops violently evict homeless people in east London

Among those affected are people who survived a fatal fire

By Sam Ord

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Thursday 01 June 2023

Issue 2858

The police in Tower Hamlets, east London (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Around 100 police officers raided and evicted people who sought safety in an occupied, “unofficial” homeless shelter, in Tower Hamlets, east London, on Thursday.

Police in riot gear forced people onto Cable Street, adjacent to the Autonomous Winter Shelter (AWS). The former convent had been providing a home to around 40 people since November last year.

A protest—up to 100 strong—gathered to support the evicted and to try to prevent arrests. One protester shouted, “Everyone deserves a roof over their head, where will you be sleeping tonight officers?”

Another protester said, “Tower Hamlets has one of the highest homeless rates in the country. The police have just made that grow.”

As the cops issued a dispersal notice to the protesters and former residents, cops chased and threw to the ground some who tried to escape.

Police injured at least one person as they seized him. They were later dearrested as protesters stood by the police van.

One of those who was evicted said, “A dispersal order for what? So the building can sit empty?”

A local man who was walking by said, “This is way too much, you can’t treat homeless people like this.” Many of the people who confronted the cops were crying at the scenes they had witnessed.

Among those housed in the AWS were six survivors from a fatal fire in Shadwell that happened in early March. Socialist Worker has reported on the failures that had left these people homeless after their ordeal.

On 30 April residents were issued an eviction notice. But the AWS group decided they would not obey it because of the need to provide housing.

The dispersal notice extended to local people who watched and joined the protest, they were told to move away or go inside.

AWS said recently, “We do what we do because councils and the state fail us all the time. We do not however, have even a fraction of the resources and while people are being referred to us, the threat to our existence remains.”

Tower Hamlets suffered the highest rate of homeless deaths among all London boroughs in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics. Yet last year the Department of Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities recorded 1,510 empty homes in the borough.

The council and Tory government are failing homeless people, they create a situation where people in Tower Hamlets who cannot afford the average £653 per week rent—according to Foxtons estate agents—rightly occupy accommodation, legally or “illegally”.

And the police’s role is not to help those in need, but to defend private property by any means.

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