One Year of Being Homeless

Most will look back at the 8th May 2015 as the day of England’s slow and painful demise, following the recent Conservative victory. However, for me this date has a completely different meaning. Last year on this day, I was evicted from my student accommodations, Montague Burton Halls of Residence, University of Leeds. The eviction followed a lengthy and emotionally draining process as I hanged by a string to prevent myself from becoming homeless. Since the eviction, I have become one of the many hidden homeless ; moving from couch to couch, place to place, and sometimes even city to city, living on the kindness and generosity of friends and supporters who have helped to house me for the past year, which has in turn kept me off the streets.

How did this happen?

It all began after the University of Leeds made a decision concerning my academic appeal on the 16th April 2013. Prior to the University of Leeds’ decision, I was in arrears with University of Leeds Accommodation Office as a result of my scholarship being unfairly revoked, which in turn forced me into poverty. I had hoped that a favorable decision by the University of Leeds concerning my academic appeal would mean that I could pay off my rent arrears and continue living in student accommodation until I eventually completed my PhD.

Around the beginning of August 2013 a representative from the University of Leeds Accommodation Office served me with a letter indicated that I had to vacate my room in 7 days time. However, my solicitor, representing me pro-bono, being one of the foremost experts in Leeds concerning housing law, indicated that the letter was illegal. He indicated that the University of Leeds had to give me at least a month’s notice before they could begin eviction proceedings against me.

By this time, I had decided to contact the media to gain support and awareness of my particularly situation. The Yorkshire Evening Post did a story concerning my eviction which you can read here.

From August 2013 until November 2013, I thought that the University of Leeds Accommodations Office had backed off from evicting me from Montague Burton Halls of Residence. Then on 13 November 2013, the University of Leeds Accommodation’s Manager, Heather Sugden, a solicitor for the University of Leeds and 4 security guards came into the flat that I was residing in, and entered my room and tried to forcibly evict me without any prior notification.  Fortunately I was able to speak to my solicitor while the illegal eviction was going on. You can see in this video below of the eviction in process that I secretly filmed to protect my personal safety. You can also hear a conversation that my solicitor, who was shouting down the phone, had with Ms Sugden, reminding her that if she attempted to remove me, it would be seen as an illegal eviction, which is a criminal act:

Following this second illegal eviction attempt, the following day, on the 14th November 2013, I along with fellow Justice4Sanaz supporters staged a protest outside the Ziff Building at the University of Leeds campus, where the University of Leeds Accommodation Office is located. Here is a photo from that day:

1457629_10151747973641615_1931052847_n

While protesting, we were met with extreme intimidation by the University of Leeds Security. There were five us protesting, while there 6 security guards at us all time, including the Head of Security at the University of Leeds, Alain Cain, who as his bio states,

“…work[ed] for G4S Security Services UK as the Security Operations Manager in charge of the Local Guard Force of the United States Embassy in London. He also has considerable overseas experience, including Operational Tours of both Iraq and Afghanistan with the British Army and work as a Security Consultant for Saudi Aramco in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

In fact, from a video taken during the protest, Alain Cain makes an appearance at the 5.10 mark after we had were removed from protesting inside the Ziff Building. If I had, as Cain maintains, “a right to protest” then why were 6 security guards following me and my supporters and trying to limit, control, and criminalize our voices from being heard?

After the protest and a number of administrative violence techniques to scare me out of my room at Montague Burton Halls of Residence, the University of Leeds served me on the 14th January 2014 with a notice of hearing for…get this…not a eviction case, but an ASBO claim against me for supposed anti-social behavior! As I stated in a vlog made after my hearing on the 27th January 2014:

“I realize that the University of Leeds hired an outside [law] firm to take care of this matter. [The law film] is called Hatch Solicitors, they are [located] on Park Row, in Leeds. Their solicitor, in fact is making anywhere between a £120 to £180 [per hour]. […] So the university is spending a nice pretty penny on this case when they could just let me back on my course and let me complete [my PhD]. One of the things that was really interesting about the University of Leeds  [legal argument] was that they were making a claim [of] anti-social behavior. They were basically stating, “actual or threatened anti-social behavior has taken place at Montague Burton”, which is absolutely preposterous.

If the University of Leeds wants to talk about anti-social behavior, then they should actually come around Montague Burton on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. When I say night, I mean anywhere between 10pm until 3 or 4am and see what it is like. It is pretty anti-social when you have freshers [first year undergraduate students] coming back. Freshers exiting Montague Burton drunk and loud or coming back more drunk, and more loud. I’ve spoken to a lot of residents that live right across Montague Burton, [in the] council estate. They’ve told me many times that they’ve been woken up by students coming back in a very loud, boisterous and completely inebriated state. [The residents of the council estate] have had some students pee in their gardens, knock on their doors [in the early hours of the morning], or acting in a very rough manner, a nuance, basically.”

To bring an ASBO claim against me, when I was a former subwarden for University of Leeds Accommodation from 2011-2012, is not only ridiculous and completely baseless, but another example of how the university was hellbent to sully my character and produce further outright lies against me and my campaign. The only reason that the University of Leeds brought an ASBO claim as I later explain in the video was that it helped to push up their case to be heard in court. As I indicate about the hearing at Leeds County Court on the 27th January 2014,

“And the judge opened the case by saying to the university’s solicitor how displeased she was to find that [they had filed] an ASBO case. She wondered if the university had put together an ASBO case so that they could ‘bump’ themselves up the queue for cases to be heard that month. The university’s solicitor was a a little bit [more like completely] flustered. [The judge] then proceeded to ask him, “Where is your evidence of ASBO?” [She further indicated] that if there wasn’t evidence of ASBO then [this case] should not be [heard in court.] If this was an ASBO case, then [the judge informed the university’s solicitor] that they need to go through the proper channels of filing an ASBO claim against me. That made me really happy because it showed that the judge was not happy with how the university was arguing this case [against me]. In particular, [the judge] was very disappointed with having her time wasted. I remember [the judge] saying [to the university’s solicitor], “I’m on an 8-day trial. I don’t like the fact that I’m hearing this [ASBO] case, when I have other things on my mind and other things that I should be doing. It is a bit out of line for you to make an ASBO claim when you haven’t substantiated [the evidence].

At that stage, I could say when the university [solicitor] walked into the court, they were this big.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 11.11.02

They thought they had the case in the bag. They thought, ‘that’s it, we have everything in the pocket. No one is going to touch us, everything is going to work to our benefit.’ Seeing this judge, go at the [university] solicitor for a good 5 to 6 minutes, […] he was reduced to this size:

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 11.16.51

It was the best feeling [to witness the university solicitor’s humiliation in court].” You can watch/listen the rest of the vlog here.

Needless to say, the university’s attempt at filing an ASBO claim against me was quickly rubbished by the judge and their case thrown out of court. Because the judge had only given the hearing a 30 minute slot, she indicated that due to the complexity of the case that it would need to go to trial.

I left Leeds County Court that day with my head held high, pleased that the judge saw through the university solicitor’s attempt to rubbish and besmirch my character through a baseless ASBO claim. This ASBO claim was done in order to quickly remove me from Montague Burton without following the proper legal channel in evicting one from a rental property.

1507577_10151927657322038_20365003_n

Bright and early, Justice4Sanaz supporters outside Leeds County Court on the 27th January 2014 during the baseless ASBO hearing brought against me by the University of Leeds. Photo by Tanis Belsham-Wray

546048_10151841837567038_148498232_n

Photo by Tanis Belsham-Wray

1611860_10151858859531615_92308732_o

First round victory cat walk while a photographer for the Yorkshire Evening Post takes photos of me and fellow Justice4Sanaz supporters. Photo by Darren Sunderland

1531921_10151903669470843_1491105685_o-1

A Yorkshire Post piece from the court hearing on the 27th January 2014.

1523577_10151903669465843_284442070_o

A Yorkshire Evening Post from the hearing on the 27th January 2014.

1669785_10151899629305843_1847541222_o

Placards used on the day of the 27th January 2014 protest outside Leeds County Court.

A trial was set for the 14th March 2014. As a result of hospitalization during the first week of March because of functional limb weakness and becoming partially paralyzed because of my condition, a judge presiding over my case on the day of my trial decided to reschedule the hearing for the 10th April 2014.

During this time, the University of Leeds appointed solicitor from Hatch Solicitors sent a letter to my solicitor, indicating that if I move out of Montague Burton Halls of Residence by the 8th April 2014 along with discontinuing all future legal action against the University of Leeds that they would rescind their eviction case against me. Of course, this was a sly tactic the university appointed solicitor used in order to further silence and prevent me from taking any future legal claim against the University of Leeds.

I wanted the University of Leeds to be held accountable– if they were going to bring an eviction against me, then they would need to do it properly and not be above the law or throw baseless accusations at me.

Unfortunately, on the 10th April, the judge found in favor to the University of Leeds to and an eviction date was set for the 8th May 2014. Despite limited mobility due in part to being diagnosed with functional limb weakness, I was forced to leave my accommodation and become homeless.

I am deeply grateful that many Justice4Sanaz supporters have been able to give me a roof over my head. However, it is certainly not easy moving around and having no stability in my living environment. From December 2014 until this past March, I’ve been non-stop ill, first with bronchitis, and later with stubborn cold that later turned into a full blown flu. It has been only recent that I’ve regained my health because I’m staying with friends in Manchester and have not had to shift around as much as I did in the past four months.

To paraphrase James Baldwin, being homeless, much like being poor (because homelessness and poverty go hand in hand) is extremely expensive, but also incredibly time consuming as well. Homelessness is expensive because I do not have a fixed address. That means, I cannot apply for bank account. Without a bank account, one learns how ‘expensive’ it is living in a cardless economy. Everything cost double without a bank card. In fact, the economic system punishes you for being cardless. I learned this when sending an application with the Home Office and being short of funds because I wasn’t aware that purchasing postal orders (the poor persons way of payment without a bank account) meant paying an exorbitant interest fee! Had I paid my application fee to the Home Office with a bank card, credit card, or check, it would have been vastly cheaper, not to mention easier and less stressful than using the postal order method of payment.

Without a fixed address, I have to rely on friends and friends of friends collect my post, ranging from doctor’s appointments, down to correspondence with the Home Office.  Keeping track of which address my mail is going to means I have to be incredibly organized and aware at all times.  All of my possessions are stored with two friends. I live out of one small wheeled suitcase which has followed me faithfully to the different places that I’ve rested my weary, stressed head.
Homelessness is stressful and plays on my anxiety and mental health issues because you are at the mercy of people’s compassion and kindness. People can also be totally heartless and cruel when you are homeless, because they know they can and no one will care. Even supporters can take advantage of your precarious situation as I learned a few months ago on tour when someone threw me out of her flat and left me struggling for a place to stay in a city that I was unfamiliar with.

Being homeless, a woman of color, a migrant, and with a disability, with very little status in this country means living on the margins. It also means, at times, becoming invisible within the student movement because I have limited mobility as a result  of being poor and financially unable to attend  and participate in every conference, talk, or occupation.
Unsurprisingly, last year when I was en-route to being evicted, there wasn’t any outrage within the student movement about the violence, abuse of power and vile harassment I had encountered by the University of Leeds. Compare that to the recent student occupations that took place at LSE, University of the Arts London, King’s College London, and Warwick University, and the outpouring of of real solidarity and support given. Yes, the tactics that these respective university management officials engaged in to evict student occupiers were violent, but it was nowhere near the level of structural violence that I have received. You can’t compare being evicted out of building that you are occupying for a cause with an eviction that renders one homeless!

I am unsure how I will survive for the remainder of the year. All I know is that I cannot take another year in this deplorable condition. I desperately want stability. This type of living is soul-destroying, frustrating, and dangerous. I can no longer do this anymore.

 

Advertisements

About justice4sanaz

For 3 years, Sanaz Raji, a non-EU international student from the United States, has waged a fearless and brave fight against institutional aggression, bullying, and racism from the School of Media and Communication (formerly the Institution of Communications Studies) University of Leeds. The School of Media and Communication took away Sanaz's scholarship in August 2011, only 2 weeks before the start of her third year into her PhD studies. The School of Media and Communication breached their own procedures and rules concerning evaluating student progress. By taking away Sanaz's scholarship, the School of Media and Communication prevented her from continuing her studies in addition to having a decent standard of living with food and shelter that all students expect as a human right. In waging her battle for equal rights for non-EU international students, Sanaz was evicted from her university accommodation in May 2014, threatened with an ASBO (anti-social behavior order) and now fighting against deportation. All non-EU international students should have the right to challenge their universities for their failings without the threat of harassment or deportation. Justice4Sanaz is a movement to redress the failure of the student movement to discuss the myriad of ways that non-EU students, especially those who are people of color, are silenced, bullied and threatened within the neoliberal British university system.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s