Sunday, 28 June 2009


Voxsquatpop asks ordinary people - what they think of squatting, who they think squats, would they squat, if the financial crisis will encourage more squatting, and if squatting needs a better word to describe it. Please note: in the USA, it is illegal to squat.

Freelance writer, from San Francisco, CA, USA

I'm not very knowledgeable on it, but it strikes me as a creative way for people to find suitable living situations. I don't necessarily support the illegal side of it, but then again, if there is unused space that could go to better use, why not take advantage of it and make it worthwhile for someone or a group of someones?

I guess I always thought it was renegade wandering folks, ex-hippies, anti-establishment types, or more likely, the homeless looking for a free roof over their heads. I've now been in contact with someone more like me whom I've learned is squatting, and I'm curious and intrigued by this more spartan, rogue lifestyle.

Doubtful. I don't think I have it in me to, 1) break the law, and, 2) deal without a few creature comforts. Don't get me wrong: I live a very minimalist lifestyle, and am hardly the hair-and-makeup kind of gal. But I really value running water, modern plumbing, and I love to cook, so not having a decent kitchen with the bare necessities would be really tough on me.

I could see it happening, although here in the States, and especially in San Francisco where I live, people seem to take to the streets and live outdoors, as we have very agreeable weather. But I could also just be unaware of a squatting scene here in the city.

Definitely. To me, the word isn't very appealing. It literally makes me think of stooping down and engaging the ol' thigh muscles to take a dump, like I did for many months in those pit toilets throughout Asia and Africa.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chopped Potato : Paper trail

Here is that "notice to quit" letter (with our flat number and name of the housing officer blurred out):

Monday, 22 June 2009

Jacket Potato

News of unusual squats...

Have you ever squatted an airport? That's what squatters have been doing since June 20th at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. A vacant airport since October 31 2008, the 400 hectares of land (equiv. to 525 football fields) is in the midst of redevelopment limbo, thanks to huge local opposition to plans for luxury apartments. Check out Demotix's site for more details.

In light of the recent "MP expenses" outrage here in the UK, a group of squatters have taken over the empty West London property of a pair of MPs, dubbed Mr and Mrs Expenses, in protest at their expense claims. Read here and glee.

Squatters winning eviction battles? So goes the case for the Oubliette Collective who, since May 2009, have been squatting a former school and hostel in south London that have stood empty since August 2007. Read here and glee again.

A unisex squat sauna which is open to all? With a steam room, vegetarian food also on offer and a chillout garden? Yes, really.

Is this story helping the public image of squatting? Back in 2006, Polish decorators hired to do up a flat owned by a banker reportedly downed tools upon arrival, moved in to the flat whilst she was away, and then claimed squatters rights! Read here and ponder.

And ponder this while you're at it!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Chopped Potato : What is this quit?

Not exactly court papers, but today we (and every other squatter here) received a "notice to quit" letter from the local "authority"/owner.

Addressed to the previous tenants of our flat, the housing officer of the letter states: I know there are trespassers in there -- so vacate the premises soonest please -- and hand over your keys too. Not written as gently as that, but pretty much the gist of it. With a threat attached of course, "Failure to do so"...

And also a date: Monday 27th July. Where our "period of tenancy", according to the owner, is due to expire. Whatever that means. The Advisory Service for Squatters agrees that this letter is nothing but nonsense, don't worry about it they say. So we won't.

But in all honesty -- all of nine months for the local "authority" to figure out there are squatters in this block of flats? Uh huh. Either this time lag is an indication of the complexity of their bureaucracy in getting such matters sorted out or just cause for plain bad eyesight.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Talk to the dog

Since the beginning of the year, the local estate has been patrolled by security guards from Force 1 Security. Their purpose: to stop squatters breaking into new places.

A very specific purpose, that. So watertight that it means that when junkies lurk in the stairwell or attempt to steal waterpipes -- so-called security DO NOTHING.

And when they do do something vis a vis their role on the estate, they're a bit slow getting to it. Hiring bulky Polish guys to run after squatters or step to it with break-ins just doesn't work. But then, whose ever heard of a lithe security guard anyway?

When not limping into action, the guards indulge in the following:
* Sit in their cars all day whilst parked in various lots on the estate. Sometimes they'll park their cars together, like a mini auto-meet.

* Allow their guard dog a very brief respite from being cooped up in the car pen. Yes, their dogs were left in their cars during the recent London heatwave.

Their lack of dog training has meant that guards frequently drag their dogs by the lead, as witnessed by many squatters; one incident reportedly saw a guard force his dog to walk over broken glass! Said dogs aren't really guard dogs either, just playful German shepherds happy to catch sticks and enjoy the breeze. Hired no doubt because they look like mean dogs.

* Sometimes pair the dogs off with each other in a kind of manly "my dog growls louder than yours" type stand-off battle. Probably good for guard manhood or something.

* Test the limits of their personal carbon footprint. ie, park in the parking lot, then drive out. Then reverse park back in. Then drive out, go around the block. Return, park. Drive out. Etc.

* And occasionally look mean, with their jackboots and muzzled canines.
Wow, we feel secure.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Steeling our neighbourhood

To prevent new squatters from taking any of the six empty properties on the first floor, the council has taken the following action..

Yes, they have sealed off access to the entire floor -- with Sitex.

Just when we were starting to miss seeing fresh new Sitex again in our everyday lives.

Look here:

And on the opposite side:

Two unique viewpoints transformed by Sitex into a giant cheese grater.

To stop any attempt from squatters on the second floor to access this floor, the council has also encased part of the gangway with... more Sitex.

Note the black anti-climb paint on the edges of the metal.

They have also brought back the practice of latching Sitex onto the windows that face out into the street, a tactic they haven't used in a long time on this estate (when we arrived, very few of the newer empties were treated this way).

According to Kitchen Sink Neighbour, this renewed tactic was in response to a rumour doing the rounds of squatters who were planning to jump up onto the balconies to open squats and thus evade the dog patrols. Rumours no doubt heard by the security guards and conveyed to Sitex central.

With 24/7 dog patrols and these Sitex barriers, our block of flats is beginning to resemble the set of a TV crime drama. Which is apt, since living here is a drama in and of itself.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Jacket Potato

New squat news, this time from non-squatters and their "hysteria" towards us.

"Council forced to give squatters a list of all its empty properties". That pretty much says it all.

And another. "Owner speaks of squatter hell".

"Riot police break into London squats" reports on the unfortunate consequences of the testosterone-pumped police presence at the G20 demo on April 1st.

If you're after positive press attention for your squat -- make sure your squat has been opened by middle-class artists, then we'll talk. That's what the Guardian newspaper seems to be telling us, in its latest fixation with such squats. It's telling that this article appears in their "art & design" section. Where would they put a non-artistic squat?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Oh ship

Do you remember Polish Husband? Who assisted us with the roof invaders and gave chase to Kitchen Sink Neighbour's attacker? He and his family have been fine neighbours, just friendly to us squatters from the get go.

Have been? Uh, why?

Because of this.

Yes, Sitex. The family have been moved, to temporary premises in east London. USgal noted that the flat smashing of their home took approximately three hours.

The shipping off of the Polish family has been a surprise. We knew they'd go someday, but their departure is a signal to us that the council is active again, with regards to this block. USgal reports that the single mother family on the second floor have also been relocated. We wonder what move will be made next.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Chopped Potato : May day

Playing truant from the squat in recent weeks has meant a plot hole in May. Not to fear... here's a round-up of various incidents this past month.

Phone Tree

A positive outcome of the squatters meet in March has been a phone tree, connecting as many of the 'flat liberators' on the estate as possible.

The 'squatter hotline number' is that of a cellphone belonging to Polishgal who lives two blocks away, whose unlimited and free text messaging enables the rest of us to receive estate news that is sms'd directly to her (and which she distributes). A useful service indeed it is (if vulnerable; if Polishgal departs, so will the phone number).

Recent news has included: warnings about a teenage pervert boy who has been pestering women walking through the estate in the evenings; local Bengali boys stoning a local squat in protest at it being there; and court papers being delivered to nearby squats.


The council is at work again, with eviction notices issued to neighbouring squats, but in opposition, so has the squatters' network on the estate. One morning in early May, 30 estate squatters descended on a squat that was in the process of being closed by bailiffs and reopened it in... 12 minutes!... right before the bailiffs' eyes (who obviously cannot do anything to stop it).

The security guards who patrol our estate, and are meant to stop squatters from opening new spots, were apparently, according to eyewitnesses, mortified -- and yet paralysed by what they saw. Local radio station Resident FM later reported this event on one of their shows.


What of the junkies who have been terrorising our block (as well as their jugulars and testicles) since last November? Who have haunted the first floor and stairwells, and left syringes and shopping bags full of their faeces for all to see?

Gone, forever. But not easily in their departure. As Kitchen Sink Neighbour recounts:
"Polish Husband's wife had already passed them in the stairwell when I came back home late one Friday, giving her aggro on the way. They had apparently arrived within minutes of the security guards leaving.

As I made my way through them, I asked them kindly if they wouldn't mind taking their needles with them afterwards. They were not pleased. One of them followed me up to the landing, shouting at me about it. When I turned around to ask him kindly again, out of nowhere, he hit me in the face! I started screaming as the man ran off.

Polish Husband had obviously spoken with his wife, because within seconds of my attack, he was out of his flat... he looked at me and then legged down the stairwell and GAVE CHASE to the man, also with the help of the guy in No. 6 who'd also come out of his flat. Both of them rugby tackled the junkie to the ground and held him there until the security guards came.

We haven't seen the junkies since."
Kitchen Sink Neighbour has since made a full recovery.