This afternoon I met with the group that were evicted two days ago from the disused library having moved in after it has been left unused for the past 12 months. They are a great bunch of people who need somewhere to live and want to live communally, growing food and sharing it. They decided to make use of a building that Kent County Council no longer wants for a library but seems to have done nothing else with.
They were in need of a home, sofa surfing and the like, so they decided to set up a squat / commune. They didn't break in, the building was not secured. They were not damaging the place - why would they, they wanted to live there - they were looking after it. But KCC had different ideas, clearly the thought of young people doing something useful was too much for them and they sent in the bailiffs to turf them out.
To add to this the abuse suffered at the hands of the bailiffs was unacceptable. This is what Lorna Crease wrote about the eviction on Friday:
perhaps not many people respect the occupation of the old Maidstone
library, under Section 6... but I'll be honest, fuck you. I watched
today as people lost their home after bailiffs BROKE IN and told them to
leave, in the rain at 7 in the morning, because they want to knock the
building down. I watched as their possessions and very existence were
disregarded as even remotely human or worth anything, and I heard myself
as they were referred to as "junkie crackheads". I heard raised voices
and saw sadness and anger, and I realised in that moment that we are
trapped in a system which cares for nothing but money, demonises the
homeless and anyone who doesn't fit the middle/upper-class ideal, and
that if we're going to help ourselves and make changes, we have to do it
OURSELVES. the power is still somewhat in our hands, and we need to
learn to stand up and use it, before we're manipulated into an existence
where we have no rights left whatsoever"
So we have a group of young people, keen to have a roof over their head
and to look after themselves and a property. There is a property that
was well used and liked as a library until KCC decided that libraries
are best placed out of town where older people and people with
pushchairs can't get to and promptly closed it. A property that has been
empty for a year now and has no sign of becoming anything else. It is
clear that these people should be allowed to look after the building.
Maidstone Borough Council have no time for young people needing affordable homes, they are about to cut the 40% requirement for affordable homes in new developments down to just 15% which is disgraceful.
In London, there is a company that uses squatters to mind buildings until they are sold and then provides the squatters with the next building to mind. Job creation, home creation and a simple solution - great stuff but too much for Kent.
There is a growing problem of homelessness in Maidstone. Anyone who visits the town centre regularly will have seen a significant rise in people sleeping in doorways - and these will be the tip of a sofa surfing iceburg. Maidstone Borough Council needs to take urgent action to ensure that there are affordable homes available in the town, not cutting the number of them.