CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Rough sleepers given a home after squatters ‘reclaim’ vacant carpet shop

Housing activists: Everybody who wanders by says ‘This is great, much better than it being empty’

08 June, 2017 — By William McLennan

Housing activists have ‘reclaimed’ a former carpet shop in Kentish Town Road

A HOMELESS man who spent months lying in a shop doorway now has a roof over his head after the vacant building that he used for shelter was “reclaimed” by housing activists.

A former carpet store in Kentish Town Road, which is slated for demolition, has been taken over by a group of squatters and is now housing three people who had previously been sleeping rough.

But they fear bailiffs could kick them out any day after the owners were given a possession order at court yesterday ­(Wed­nesday). One of the group, Mark Smith, said: “The people who were sleeping on this doorstep were lying a metre from an empty building with working heating. It’s grim and says a lot about capitalism.”

John Glackin and Mark Smith

The squatters, calling themselves Camden Homeless Solidarity, have re-opened the shop as a “solidarity space” and “free shop” offering free food, clothes and books to all.

The space is also being used by Streets Kitchen, run by volunteers, which provides food and other essentials for rough sleepers from a stall at Britannia Junction twice a week. The group themselves became homeless earlier this year when rent-free use of a vacant council warehouse came to a end. Mr Smith said they had had a positive reception from neighbours, adding: “Everybody who wanders by says ‘This is great, it’s much better than it being empty’. We haven’t had anyone come by and say we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Sue Odell, whose home backs on to the site, said: “I think it’s great. I’ve never had any problem with them. Why not use this spaces? At the moment, all they’re doing is positive things for the community, inviting people in for free food, to have a book and sit down to read.”

Isky Gordon, who chairs the Bartholomew Area Residents’ Association, said that he had received “a mixed message” from members, who are broadly supportive of the group’s aims, but said some had raised concerns that it appeared “messy”. He said: “The feedback I have received is that people are sympathetic to their aims and would rather the space was being used, but don’t want it to spill out onto the pavement.”

Jon Glackin, who helps to run Streets Kitchen, said: “We would encourage the owners to talk to us. We would like to keep doing what we are doing and make it official. It’s a much-needed community resource.”

Property firm MHA bought the building and the adjoining Jessops site at 2a Barthol­omew Road last year for £12m, but have since sold the site and refused to name the buyer when contacted by the New Journal. Camden Council last year granted planning permission to demolish the site and replace it with a four-storey building that would house a shop, dentist, office space and eight flats.

Concerns have previously been raised about the number of vacant shops along Kentish Town Road and a second group of squatters moved into the former Blustons site last month, but are now facing eviction. Camden Homeless Solidarity moved to the shop at the junction of Prince of Wales Road in May, having earlier occupied the vacant army surplus store Squadron HQ.

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