Essex

Southend BHS squatters 'highlight lack of housing'

BHS in Southend, Essex
Image caption Passers-by stopped to look at the group of squatters currently living at the recently-vacated BHS shop in Southend, Essex

Squatters who have moved into an empty BHS shop say they are trying to highlight a lack of housing for homeless people.

A group of about 10 people is squatting in the store in Southend, Essex, as originally reported by The Echo.

"There are so many empty buildings and so much need for housing. Why not use it?" asked one of the squatters.

Southend Council said it was heavily involved in tackling rough sleeping and helped hundreds of people each year.

"The council finds it unacceptable that anyone should have to be street homeless in the 21st Century," a spokesman said.

"We continue to be heavily involved in tackling rough sleeping even when this falls outside of our statutory responsibilities."

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A squatter who wished to be named only as Mr Green questioned why the local authority and homeless charity HARP had not done more previously to tackle the housing crisis.

Image caption The squatters have posted a legal warning in the shop window

"We're making the point that the council isn't homing the homeless," he said.

"Why hasn't something been done in the past? Surely they saw this coming?

"Inside BHS, it's just an empty shop floor, there's a lovely canteen up there for recreation as well as a big open space to help those in need," he said.

In a statement, HARP said it was "sad" that people would resort to squatting and encouraged members of the group to come and talk to staff.

"We have a wide range of services that really help people get back on their feet and break the cycle of homelessness."

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