Law students have volunteered their services to High Street squatters who have been served a notice to appear in court next week.
On the 6th of February, homeless couple Spike McClung and Maxine Stephenson set up a “peaceful” and “drug free” safe space for homeless people to shelter in what used to be Clinton Cards in Exeter High Street.
Six people and two dogs are currently dwelling in the unoccupied shop.
Accused of possession, their right to stay will be determined at a hearing in Exeter’s County Court on the 1st March.
David Love, who lives in New Zealand, is the owner of the building. He is seeking possession of the property back, while the shop lease is presently being marketed for sale.
The couple intend to attend the hearing supported by a voluntary solicitor, who has offered their services via a friend, and Law students from the University.
Second year Law student Mary Healy, uninvolved in the case, commented: “I would never condone squatting because it is a criminal act – where squatting in residential premises was made a criminal offence by Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. For the purpose of Section 144, building is ‘residential’ if it is designated or adapted, before the time of entry, for use as a place to live.
“However, in this case where the individuals have squatted in a commercial premise, (resulting in a civil matter and not a criminal one) points to a very important underlying social problem of a lack of affordable housing in this country. If people are driven to squat it is through desperation, the lack of any alternative, and a deep-seated feeling of social injustice.”
Last November Exeposé News reported that Exeter City Council statistics have revealed that the number of people sleeping rough had increased by 48 per cent between 2013 and 2014.
Student Fae Krakowska who volunteers at an Exeter soup kitchen has expressed her concern for public tolerance of the homeless: “During my most recent shift, one man was telling me how people often urinate on the homeless after a boozy night out.
“The most shocking story I’ve heard is one person’s claim that a stranger tried to set fire to him on the street. Exeter’s police are unmotivated to persecute this unjustness, and seem to view the homeless as less than human.”
Since the squatters have moved in they have been receiving donations such as food, clothes, cooking utensils, pet food, and toiletries.
They have painted the inside of the windows to ensure privacy and to protect the inhabitants.
Spike has said that it is not their intention to damage the property, and they are offering to pay the electricity bill while they occupy the squat.
He said: “It’s good being in here because it’s a relaxed, peaceful spot, and it’s dry.”