CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

How many more homeless people will die in doorways?

01 November, 2018

A MAN without a home is found dead in a doorway in Chalk Farm. Possibly, he froze to death.

Yet, a couple of miles away, lie more than 40 empty luxury flats, in a skyscraper block, Centre Point, that is a symbol of the madness of the London property market – and proof of Karl Marx’s theory that capital has the power to reproduce itself and increase the margin of profit almost limitlessly.

Financially, the chequered history of Centre Point is extraordinary. It was built by the developer Harry Hyams in the mid-60s for £5million and even though it lay empty for a decade, then became offices, then refurbished as flats recently, it has, over the years, brought in a steady stream of millions of pounds of profit, to whoever saw its potential as a money-making edifice.

Money, money, money – developers have doubled or trebled their investments for more than 50 years.
Today’s developer, Almancantar, would have paid many millions more than it cost Hyams to build it.

In the mid-1970s, activists, including Jack Dromey, then active in a historic strike at Grunwicks, now a Birmingham MP, led a short-lived occupation. Though flats lay empty for many years the squatting movement left the edifice alone.

But Almancantar have now taken half of the unsold flats off the market because they cannot be sold – they start at £1.8million for a small one bedroom flat.

As the number of rough sleepers rises, and temperatures drop to zero, minds are being concentrated on the question of the homeless in Camden.

Homelessness has been disease of this society since the post-war years – but in Austerity Britain it has got worse.

Only long-term planning, and an enormous increase in council building, as we have stated many times, will solve the crisis.

But action needs to be taken immediately. It is an utter disgrace that in a modern economy, relatively wealthy, a man should die in a doorway, that life expectancy for the homeless is 43 years of age, half of the national figure.

Can action be taken by a local authority? Why aren’t social activists agitated? Why aren’t the churches opening their doors?

Councillor Leo Cassarani wants to know why empty properties cannot be compulsorily purchased by the council. It’s easy to pooh-pooh this – to kick it away with clichés.

But a man died this week in a doorway. How many more are going to die before we do something?

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