Hounded off the streets, hounded through the courts and hounded by Manchester City Council, the city's homeless people finally got a break today, courtesy of former Manchester United players, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs.
Yesterday, following a court hearing which meant leaving the sumptuous Charlotte Street building that homeless people had previously squatted, the Stock Exchange building on Norfolk Street, at the side of the Arndale Centre, was occupied.
The new residents set up tents and facilities in the palatial marble-studded Grade 2 listed building, and were bracing themselves for another possession order, this time via Neville and Giggs, who purchased the building for a reported £1.5million intending to create a boutique hotel.
Instead, today Gary Neville spoke to Wesley Hall, human rights activist and spokesperson for the group Manchester Angels, and offered it to them for four months, during the worst excesses of the winter. What could have been a PR nightmare for the `Class of '92' duo, dragging homeless people through courts, instead has been turned into an incredibly positive move by Neville.
"He seemed really down to earth" says Wesley "He said that two weeks ago he was walking through Market Street and he had the keys to the Stock Exchange in his pocket. After he'd spoken to the homeless people and given them a bit of money he was contemplating letting them stay there but he had it in the back of his mind that they'd damage the building.
"Now that he's seen what we've done at Charlotte Street - going in taking footage beforehand and leaving it in better condition when we've come out - he actually trusts us" Wesley explains "We agreed that his building workers and surveyors could come in and I cheekily asked that, instead of employing labourers he gets these homeless people working, and he said `Yeah I'll come and see you'..."
It's a completely different attitude to that of Manchester City Council, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and Bruntwood property company, that have chosen to seek possession orders to evict various homeless camps that have sprung up around the city since April, and shames their actions. MMU is even hosting a Homeless Film Festival while pursuing evictions of homeless people on its property (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
"The big thing now is to project out there to get mental health support, to get counsellors, to get recovery workers and to get pepole to come down and be mentors" says Wesley "The support services need to get engaging.
"Now we've got a serious platform" he explains "These guys have got stability for the next four months, we can plan ahead and start facilitating everything we've dreamed of. We don't have to worry about bouncing between buildings, dealing with court cases, doing midnight flits and all that bollocks. We can be comfortable for a few months.
"It's amazing now we've got it over the Christmas period" he adds "We're hoping to get a celebrity chef down to do a Christmas meal. And in the meantime we can offer these people more workshops, more advice and support."
Last night, Stock Exchange occupier Michael, who has been homeless for seven and a half months, sent a message to Gary Neville via the Salford Star...
"I'm so sorry we had to do this" he said "But this is the situation we're in, and we're all homeless. So Mr Neville, the nice man that you really are, let us stay, let us live...don't let us down, let us live..."
It looks like Michael got the response he needed to hear from his favourite Manchester United player...
*See also previous Salford Star articles...
Gary Neville's Stock Exchange Occupied by Manchester Homeless People – click here
Homeless Occupy Manchester Chinatown Luxury Block – click here