As the Land Department reclaimed the Għajn Tuffieħa barracks from squatters yesterday, one man was evicted from an abandoned room that has been his home for the past eight years.

Joseph Chircop, whose ID card lists the address of the barracks where he lived illegally, was actually rendered homeless after the room where he lived was emptied and welded shut by department officials yesterday.

The enforcement action, which forms part of a campaign launched by the department on illegal encroachment of public land, was taken after the squatters in 10 structures at the former British Services barracks were served with notices which gave them a week to vacate the building.

"All I want is a roof over my head as I have no place to go," Mr Chircop told The Times complaining that the eviction was too sudden for him to find another place to stay.

Surrounded by his three dogs and some stray cats, Mr Chircop explained that, eight years ago, he had ended up without a home after he separated from his wife with whom he has three children.

With nowhere to go and no relatives to take him in, Mr Chircop wandered about until he passed by the Għajn Tuffieħa barracks and saw an open door. He walked inside the abandoned room in search of shelter and spent the night there.

Mr Chircop explained that he tried to find an alternative residence but he could not afford to pay rent as he did not work and registered for unemployment benefits because he suffers from a health condition.

Days turned to years and Mr Chircop still lived at the barracks that, by now, were listed as his home on his ID card. Ironically, he said that he applied for an alternative residence with the Housing Authority, since he was concerned that the ceiling of the room was not safe, but was turned away because he already had a residence listed on his ID card, he said.

He learnt to live without electricity and made use of water from a nearby source which he carried to the room in buckets. He also turned the room into a more homely environment for himself and his children, who visited him three times a week, by sectioning it off to create smaller rooms and filling them with mismatched pieces of furniture given to him.

After occupying the room at the barracks for eight years, last week the Land Department served him, and people occupying other structures in the area, with eviction notices giving them a week to leave.

Yesterday department officials, accompanied by police officers, went on site to clear out the structures which were littered with odd pieces of furniture such as mattresses, sofas, cupboards and other items like shoes and children's toys. By the time officials arrived the contents of some rooms had been completely wrecked. Officials cleared the rooms and loaded their contents into removal vans, then sealed off the buildings. The atmosphere was calm as the only squatter present was Mr Chircop who, though clearly distressed, cooperated with officials when they emptied his home.

Parliamentary Secretary for Land Jason Azzopardi said that an address on an ID card did not constitute legal title.

"We will continue eviction action because the ID card is no defence in cases of squatting. This is a blatant abuse of the law and the system and it is about time that the Electoral Commission, as the body responsible for issuing ID cards, takes up this issue," Dr Azzopardi said.

Meanwhile Mr Chircop went to the Mosta police station where police issued documentation showing that he has been evicted and is now homeless. This morning, he said, he will be taking this document to the Housing Authority to apply for a home.

When contacted yesterday evening he said that he was back at the barracks and would either spend the night sleeping near his dog or in an abandoned car.

A spokesman for the Social Policy Ministry explained that once Mr Chircop applied for housing, the authority would look into his situation and review his case. The spokesman added that there was high demand for housing and very little property available.

The eviction at the barracks follows a similar exercise in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq earlier this month when caravans and structures occupying public land were removed.

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