“All persons, groups and communities have the right to resettlement, which includes the right to alternative land of better or equal quality and housing that must satisfy the following criteria for adequacy: accessibility, affordability, habitability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, suitability of location, and access to essential services such as health and education.” Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment 4: The Right to Adequate Housing, par. 8.
The residents at Dale Farm are fed up with homeless applications. Even before I got involved at Dale Farm over two years ago, many of the Travellers were already part of a long, frustrating homelessness process they did not understand. This process has been ongoing ever since, and a few other supporters and I, as their advocates, have been faced with a system that does not make provision for Travellers.
When we were going into Basildon Council for her homelessness interview a confused Mary Ann said to me, “I am not homeless. I have a home. It is the Council that is making me homeless.” It was not only this contradiction that was the problem, but also that the Homelessness Department and its policies/offerings are solely designed to accommodate settled people. Each Dale Farm resident, at their interview, made it clear that they did not consider themselves homeless, that they could not survive without the support of their extended family and that they would not be able to live in bricks and mortar. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions of the Homelessness Department, the best-case scenario for the Travellers is that they are offered a house or flat, isolated from their extended family, at the end of the process. This may seem reasonable to settled people, but it is unfathomable for these Travellers.
Two of the families at Dale Farm who have been offered bricks and mortar have appealed the decision, urging the courts to rule that Basildon Council must provide them with culturally-adequate accommodation. The Travellers believe that what they are asking for would be a much lower-cost solution for the Council than providing them with houses. As Nora said to me, “There are settled people who need those houses and flats. All we are asking for is a small piece of ground to put our caravan. The Council won’t have to do anything.” Barbara explained further, “It is like telling settled people that they have to live in caravans.” Their appeal was unsuccessful at the county level, but is now being appealed to the High Court.
Since this case, which has the potential to change the law and require councils to provide culturally-adequate housing, is currently in limbo, Dale Farm Travellers have been put in an impossible position. The homelessness process has essentially failed them. They will be made homeless, as not a single resident has yet been prepared to choose a solution that will force them to leave behind their entire way of life and to abandon their extended family members and community. Shouldn’t the UK government be stepping in to do everything in its power to both ensure that these people are not made homeless and that they are not forced to forfeit their culture in the process?
There is a ‘peaceful’ long-term resolution to this situation. The Dale Farm Travellers have continuously said that they will ‘move off peacefully” (as MP John Baron has continuously asked them to do) if a culturally-appropriate site can be identified for them to lawfully live on. Not only is this the humanitarian solution consistent with the UK’s international obligations, but it would also avoid the immediate millions that would be spent on an eviction and the millions that will be required to deal with its aftermath.
Posted By Susan Craig-Greene
Posted Jul 14th, 2011