On January 23, a group of anarchist squatters climbed through the window of an empty mansion in London’s Eaton Square and decided to stay. The group, which calls themselves the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (ANAL), felt that the five-story, 15,000-square-foot home would be a welcome change of scene for the city’s homeless population, and set about inviting local street sleepers to live there.
“It is criminal that there are so many homeless people and at the same time so many empty buildings,” said Tom Fox, one of the squatters, in an interview with The Guardian. “Our occupation is highlighting this injustice.”
Last Wednesday, police evicted 42 activists and homeless people after a judge ordered the group to leave.
Waves of foreign investment in U.K. real estate have driven up property costs while leaving homes unoccupied. A new government study found that some 200,000 houses in England have remained empty for more than six months. At the same time, England’s homeless population in 2016 had increased by 16 percent over the previous year.
The gorgeous $18.7 million Eaton Square property that ANAL appropriated was was purchased in 2014 by Andrey Goncharenko, a Russian oligarch. The building dates back to 1829 and is a Grade II-listed structure. It’s just one of four London properties that Goncharenko scooped up over the last three years.
In September, Goncharenko received permission to renovate the building and install a swimming pool in the basement. Apparently he wasn’t too pleased to hear about the building’s most recent occupants.
The squatters had set up a free clothing shop in the home, brought in a projector for hosting movie nights, and planned to hold a series of talks about homelessness.