Volunteers who claim to have cared for over a 150 rough sleepers a night at a disused central London building fear some will die on the street as they prepare for eviction.
“Looking around at the 170 faces I can tell you, ‘hand on heart’, certainly, some of these people would have died during the freeze (earlier this month) and I hate to think about the lives we might lose during the next freeze,” volunteer Jacqueline Messih told HuffPost UK on Friday.
The group occupying the four-storey Sofia House on Great Portland Street expect to be removed Monday after a court on Wednesday granted the building’s owner, W1 Developments, possession and the right to evict them.
Street Kitchen activists opened the premises, dubbed the Sofia Solidarity Centre, to rough sleepers on March 1 as the ‘Beast from the East’ hit the UK, blanketing the capital in snow.
Street Kitchen claim to have provided food and shelter for some 200 people a night at the building where a “real sense of community” has developed, according to Messih.
“Any moment now we could expect that knock at the door where people have to go and these people will be back on the streets,” she said, declining to be drawn on the group’s plans for the future.
“In terms of a plan we’re keeping tight lipped about that... we are looking into things because we can’t just let these people on to the streets. These people are the most vulnerable people that we have in our country.”
Rough sleepers at the centre, Messih said, are “really nervous” about leaving, fearing they will lose the provisions, such as sleeping bags, clothes and toiletries they had been gifted, while staying at the centre.
“They’re nervous about their stuff being taken away from them... they’re worried about the weather and everyone’s asking, ‘where can we go to next... what about this and that’... and we don’t know.”
Volunteer Steve Broe said the group is “praying for another building” to move to.
“If there’s anybody out there that has a building that is not [being used] we would like to continue this operation, because the longer we have with people, the more we can bring forward the skills, work on their CVs, get them to places that are better for them,” he said.