Tent City packed down as Leeds homelessness protest comes to an end

Garry Mackintosh and Haydn Jessop at the original Tent City site in Victoria Gardens.

Garry Mackintosh and Haydn Jessop at the original Tent City site in Victoria Gardens.

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CAMPAIGNERS and volunteers have ended the Tent City protest which has been taking place in Leeds for almost three weeks.

The group, which became known as Leeds Voice for the Homeless, started out by pitching 15 tents outside the city’s art gallery in Victoria Gardens on September 21.

Tent City residents at the second camp in Park Square Gardens celebrating the news that a new site had been agreed for six weeks. Picture: Dean Michaels Photography.

Tent City residents at the second camp in Park Square Gardens celebrating the news that a new site had been agreed for six weeks. Picture: Dean Michaels Photography.

The aims were to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness and influence new council policy, while offering rough sleepers a ‘safe haven’.

Tents recovered from the Leeds Festival site in August were used by campaigners and rough sleepers, who were invited from the all over the city to join the camp.

At one stage the group said it was giving shelter to up to 50 people, although Leeds City Council maintained throughout the protest that there was no need for anyone to sleep rough in the city.

Leeds Voice for the Homeless volunteer Simon Rickles said: “I just hope that Leeds City Council now realise that the public want the homeless to be given help and supported accommodation, not hidden away, excluded from the city centre and buried in statistics.

“People find themselves on the street every week and the council needs to offer people help, not only to avoid losing their home but to get off the streets as quickly as possible, and stay safe while they’re on them.”

The council said today that 15 of the people assessed at the camp already had accommodation, 10 were homeless or in temporary accommodation, and six more either refused help or could not be help due to their status in the country.

It said places to stay had been found for those who accepted help from its housing and street outreach officers, and those with accommodation had been offered support to help them make sure they could stay in their homes.

The people who could not be helped by the council because of their status have been refefred on to other organisation who can help.

A council spokeswoman said: “The ultimate aim of the protesters, council and our partners have been met and we’ve been able to help people in need.

“We hope this demonstrates what can be achieved by working constructively and positively with those that provide services rather than working against us. Anyone who is worried about becoming homeless can head to the Leeds housing options office or call us to arrange an assessment over the phone.”

The group this morning said that its volunteers had packed down from their fourth site in Calverley Street on Monday.

But yesterday a court heard some people were still on the land as the owners, the University of Leeds, sought possession.

The courts had previously granted possession orders to the city council so that the camp could be cleared from Victoria Gardens and, later, Park Square Gardens.

It was then that the council said the camp could use the old Leeds International Pool site for up to six weeks without fear of eviction, while council officers assessed all those staying on the site for housing.

However, the group left the site and moved onto the university’s land after four people were assaulted during an incident last week.

Leeds Voice for the Homeless said “by far the majority of the homeless from the camp” now had housing and its volunteers would be continuing to support those people recently homed.

The focus of the group’s efforts will now return to its regular street kitchens and outreach work with the homeless.

Likewise, the council said it will be continuing its work to support people at risk of losing their homes or who have become homeless.

Figures from Leeds Data Mill show that its Leeds Housing Options service worked with more 8,600 people in the first six months of the year.

The council spokeswoman said: “Our priority is assisting people who need accommodation and support on a daily basis. This was available throughout the protest and would have been provided to anyone that needed it regardless of the protest, making tent city unnecessary.

“It takes significant commitment and resources to work with people who have mental health issues or problems with addictions that act as a barrier to people accepting the help they need. The council and our partners will continue to offer this support to vulnerable people on a daily basis.”

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