NEWS
19/03/2018 18:21 GMT

Homeless Eviction From Sofia Solidarity Centre Leaves Rough Sleepers With 'Nowhere To Go', Volunteers Say

'It’s absolutely heartbreaking that we are having to tell people that we don’t know where they can go.'

Rough sleepers who have been forced to leave a disused central London building they took over nearly three weeks ago are being left with “nowhere to go” and “no support”, volunteers have said.

As rough sleepers and volunteers moved sleeping bags, blankets and possessions out of Sofia House on Great Portland Street on Monday morning, there was growing concern that homeless people will end up back on London’s streets.

“We’re now having to be asked by everyone ‘where can we go next?’ ‘What’s the next move?’ And not being able to say to them, ‘there’s a warm place for you to go’ is absolutely heartbreaking,” volunteer Leila told HuffPost UK.

Huffpost UK
Brendon Crozier has been homeless for four years and was staying in Sofia House

On March 1 activists established the makeshift shelter as the so-called Beast from the East hit the UK.

Organisers say up to 200 rough sleepers arrived each night at the facility, which has been dubbed the Sofia Solidarity Centre (SCC).

Last week the London County Court approved the building’s owner, W1 Developments, a summary application for possession.

The order meant that activists had to leave the four-storey property by midday on Monday - as temperatures reached just 3C in the capital.

Volunteers told HuffPost that 210 rough sleepers had stayed at the shelter on Sunday night.

Brendon Crozier, 21, started sleeping rough four years ago. He said that he sought refuge at the centre as soon as he heard about it a week ago, describing the shelter as a “relief”.

“At the end of the day, there’s innocent lives being chucked out onto the street,” he said.

“The weather conditions are getting bad again, people can die through this weather and what are the government doing about it? Nothing.

“They are quite happy to let this happen, and the courts let this happen.”

Following the court’s decision last week London mayor Sadiq Khan issued a statement saying his office had spoken to Westminster Council to ensure “help is at hand” for those needing help.

Yet many of the activists and homeless people vacating the shelter today were angry at City Hall for an alleged lack of support being offered to help rough sleepers.

HuffPost UK
Leila, a volunteer at the Sofia Solidarity Centre, has asked where the mayor of London is.

“Where is Sadiq Khan?”, volunteer Leila, who requested that her surname not be used, told HuffPost.

“He made countless promises over social media the other day but we haven’t heard from him.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking that we are having to tell people that we don’t know where they can go. There’s no support. There’s no support for them and it’s just disgusting,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said anyone leaving the building today would be able to access one through services provided by Westminster Council and City Hall.

“Although we understand no eviction has yet taken place, we have spoken to Westminster officers who have visited the building today as people have been leaving. They assured us they had left their contact details with rough sleepers in the building about how to access support if they choose to leave the building.

“With the weather still freezing, our emergency shelters remain open across London tonight so that rough sleepers have somewhere warm to stay. If you see someone sleeping rough, please use the Streetlink App to let outreach services know,” the spokesperson said.

HuffPost, however, did not see any official support being given to those who were leaving the shelter on Monday over a period of more than two hours.

Ermyas Birru, who has been volunteering at the centre, said he was angry at the whole process.

“I feel that it is absolutely outrageous that they are throwing them out onto the street and there is no support for them once they get out here,” Birru said.

“It’s ridiculous that they had to set up something like this from an outreach programme that should have been provided by the government and the local authorities.”

Steve Broe, a volunteer at the centre, said that he spoke to a woman who has been living on the streets for a year. When she asked him where to go next, he had to tell her he did not know.

“The system is failing people.... she’s out there again today,” he said. “We’ve given her a sleeping bag, we’ve done our best.” 

Yet volunteers are also proud of what they have managed to achieve these past two weeks.

Broe added: “On the positive side a group of seven/eight homeless people took a building, opened it up, asked for volunteers to come in and over 18 days we have averaged over 100 people a night.

“That’s 1,800 sleeps, 1,800 hot meals in the evening, 1,800 breakfasts, tea, coffee all day. 1,800 sleeps for people who would be out in the cold they have been in a warmer place where they can relax, sleep, feel respected, cared about.”

He called it a “huge achievement”, adding: “We’ve saved lives, for sure, and we have changed lives as well.”

As rough sleepers poured out of the centre into the bitter cold on Monday, there was talk of another building being taken over for the night, although activists were reluctant to comment further.