by liberal japonicus
I may be wrong about this, but I think that this article is something that is pretty inexplicable to most Americans.
On 26 September, Alex Haigh became the first person to be jailed under section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. His crime was one of which countless thousands of people could now be guilty: squatting. A 21-year-old from Plymouth, Haigh was arrested for living in a house in Pimlico that had been empty for over a year. He had come to London seeking work as a bricklayer; now he has a criminal record.
When section 144, which makes it an offence to squat in a residential building in England and Wales, came into effect at the beginning of September, many people agreed with it, including 52% of Guardian readers in an online poll. But is squatting really a menace or a burden to society? Might it even be beneficial? And when we talk about squatting, what do we really mean anyway? Those questions are raised again this week, albeit belatedly, by a surprising new adjudicator: Richard Madeley. In Madeley Meets The Squatters, the former breakfast TV maestro turns investigative reporter, visiting squatters and anti-squatters alike, and bringing more nuance to the subject than the current administration did when it drafted section 144.
The teaser graf notes that 10% of the world's population is squatting. A very good friend of mine from New Zealand lived in London in the 70's and squatted (I turned down a job offer in the UK in the early 90's because the pay was abysmal, but now, I think maybe it was a subtle invitation to squat somewhere). I can understand it intellectually, but it seems very difficult to imagine it in the US. Is it because there are more laws governing this? Or more internal taboos about living like this? Or higher rents? Or a different distribution of wealth, so that there are more properties that are sitting unoccupied? Or that there are just as many Americans squatting, but I just don't know about it? I can't imagine an American news personality suggesting that squatting is 'quintessentially American'. Love to hear your thoughts.