On Thursday 16th July, approximately 60 people gathered in St Helen’s Square to protest about the anti-homeless bars installed on benches on Rougier Street, prior to Richard Bridge handing in a petition of 5,400 signatures calling for their removal. People turned up with sleeping bags and blankets and at 5.30 and took over St Helen’s Square to stage a “sleep-in” and raise awareness of the issues faced by the rising number of homeless people in York.
Members of Unison were also protesting about cuts to Facility Time for union representatives working for the council, and once the sleep-in was over, York People’s Assembly joined this protest to show solidarity.
Before the sleep-in, Richard Bridge spoke to highlight the issues surrounding homelessness in the city, which has been exacerbated by rising rental prices and falling benefits. He stressed how important it is not to marginalise homeless people but instead to work to support them in as many ways as possible. Rather than be demonised or stereotyped, we recognised that those forced to sleep on the streets are among the most vulnerable in society. Sleeping rough is dangerous, and forcing people away from city centres and into side streets and alleyways increases the risk. Ben Drake from Unison also spoke to illustrate that their protest and the sleep-in both stem from the same root cause – the selfishness of those in power.
The sleep-in itself was a colourful and lively event, with a turnout ranging from toddlers to pensioners. It attracted positive attention from passers-by and tourists and created an extremely powerful visual message about the serious issue of homelessness in our society. The collective nature of the protest demonstrated the importance of community solidarity and support within society, in contrast to the heartless nature of current policies.