The appalling conditions in council flats in Regina Road is just one aspect in which Croydon Council is failing residents.
It is nearly 10 years since Croydon Council was exposed for using sub-standard and dangerous B&B bedrooms in a Thornton Heath hotel for temporary accommodation. Then, the council’s conduct was described as ‘an indictment of modern Britain’. At that time, Croydon Labour called for the hotel, Gilroy Court, to be closed.
Yet today, the council is still using the very same hotel complex to house young families, often in squalid, inadequate bedrooms. Here, one young mother, SHANTAL MOSES, above right, gives her account of her year and a half trapped in the nightmare of council ‘temporary’ accommodation
In February 2020, I received a form with instructions on where my temporary accommodation would be.
I was told I was being placed in Gilroy Court, just opposite Mayday Hospital.
I walked into reception with the council paperwork in my hand and gave it to the receptionist. She didn’t say a word to me.
“Can we have visitors?” I asked. She shook her head.
I felt so anxious and couldn’t understand why she was being so unfriendly. Was it me? Maybe she just didn’t like the look of me. I don’t know. I felt my eyes fill up with tears.
I followed her but halfway out of the hotel she passed me on to another person, who took me to my new “home” in Willis Court, an extension of Gilroy Court.
When the door was opened to my room, I was speechless. It was the size of a small bedroom, but it was to be where me and my children, aged two and three at the time, were to be expected to live for the foreseeable future.
There was no separate living space or kitchen. Just the one room, with one single bed and one double bed, pushed up next to each other.
It had only the most basic of furniture: one wardrobe, one table, one chair and a bedside table. The toilet and kitchen were also in the room. It wasn’t really a kitchen. It was a sink with a plug-in hot plate.
I didn’t know what to do. All I could think was, “How could I bring my children here?”
I headed straight back to my previous accommodation – also temporary – and begged if I could stay there longer. The landlady there was a lovely woman, really kind and understanding, but there was nothing she could do.
I called the council and told them the space at Willis Court was not suitable for a young mother and two small children. They told me, “Your case handler is not available”, and passed me to a manager.
It was like speaking to a brick wall. I could accept the small room, or face having to sleep on the streets. I felt so scared and I so badly needed support but there was none available to me. It was hopeless.
The next day, I cleaned up the room as best I could. The hotel cleaners had not done a very good job. I kept finding roll-up cigarettes and stubs everywhere. The toilet seat was so worn all the paint had chipped off it. Paint was peeling on the ceiling. The mattresses on the bed were badly damaged and stained, who knows by what.
I hadn’t been shown how anything worked, or where anything was in the complex. I had no idea where the bins were to take our rubbish, or if there was a laundry room. No one had even bothered to tell me what our new address was.
It made me feel so scared and lonely.
Eventually, I did encounter one of my new “neighbours” in the hall way.
He told me to be careful and that he’d been harassed and almost robbed outside his room – and that when his room had been cleaned, items had gone missing.
I was scared to leave my room. I couldn’t sleep that night.
The warning was similar to what the council case handler had said to me when they allocated me the room. I remember it well: “The places we put you, you could be sharing with drug users and you don’t want to put your kids through that do you?” It was as if this situation was all my fault.
I emailed the case handler to explain my worries. I told her that I was in a dark place and I just wanted her to understand me more, and get to know me, connect with me, not to judge me because of my current situation.
The council’s response was to call the police and social services to check on me.
Eventually, after another three weeks, a member of council staff came to visit. When I opened the door, she tried to make a joke. “How many children are in here?” she asked. “You don’t have any more children in here do you?” She laughed.
I just remember thinking what a stupid thing to say. When I tried to explain my concerns, she told me, “You’re lucky. You have only been here over a month. Some people have been here years.”
The conversation ended there. I closed my door.
I was now in survival mode. We had gone into lockdown because of covid-19. I had not thought it could be possible to feel more shut-in in our little room, but we were.
As the weather got better and we moved towards summer, I saw more people hanging around our accommodation, some drinking, others smoking drugs. The smell was unbearable. Every night, the same group would be hanging around from 9pm, shouting or playing, until early hours of the morning. They would start off happy with loud music and laughter but always ending in shouting and fighting.
Calling reception was pointless, they couldn’t handle it. I would just hope my kids wouldn’t wake up through the commotion and that I could get some sleep.
Every week the police would be in and out for the same group of residents. There were police raids, arrests, you name it. Living in Willis Court began to feel like hell on earth. It was the kind of thing I would normally expect to watch on a television documentary. Never in my life did I think I would be in a situation like this.
Just walking in carrying shopping was dreadful. All eyes would seem to be on you. Every time I went shopping, I would use black bin bags to hide my shopping and avoid attracting attention to me. I didn’t want to scare my children or make them feel in danger, while all the time my heart would be beating out of my chest and my leg was shaking.
I was broken but wanted them to feel like life was an amazing fairy tale. I can openly say I would be dead if I never had my kids there. I tried my best to make it all some kind of adventure for them. They couldn’t really understand why there had been so many changes in their lives already, and they truly missed there house with a garden to play in.
I used to wake up daily with migraines. It was unbearable to the point I felt dizzy and it affected my vision. I started having therapy sessions, which made it all a little easier to face.
Things began to improve a little. Some of the people who would hang around Willis Court were slowly being removed. The place was still in disrepair, but there were no more noisy nights. Just being able to leave the flat and not having to worry about anyone hanging around was amazing. I then began to take the kids for walks around the building. It wasn’t much to look at, but for them to just run about freely was a dream.
I felt bad for all the times I told them to stop playing. Could you imagine saying that to a toddler who is full of energy? I had no choice: the room was like a prison cell, not child-friendly at all.
Then, one day, my son was running in the corridor and fell, hitting his head on a sharp piece of wood. He is scarred for life. The place is just unsafe for a child to play around. Sometimes I wonder how the council get away with treating children and their families like this.
The more I left the room, the more I started to meet people from different backgrounds. I needed someone to talk to. I made friends. I met this lovely lady who helped me with some of my issues within my flat. The stained mattresses were worn out, the springs poking through. She helped me ask for a new one.
Then I reported all the other issues I was having – they never gave me a new mattress, just a new cover – like the holes everywhere, the damp, the bugs. The staff tried their best, but the whole place is in disrepair.
It is now more than a year and a half and my children and me are still in temporary accommodation. Last month, we were moved again – to another hotel room. My kids are confused and are asking questions that I have no answers for.
It is better than before, cleaner at least, but still too small. We just continue to hope we might be placed in somewhere more permanent soon, with more than just one room. We won’t give up, there’s always someone nice out there to help. It might be one-in-a-million, but we keep trying.
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats
Read more: ‘Is it because the council don’t care? Where is their humanity?’
Read more: Council’s flats scandal caused by ‘complete corporate failure’
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It’s not right to put children in accommodation where they haven’t got space to play. The people who decide where people get housed must feel bad that they are not meeting these children’s needs or maybe they don’t care.
Every Second Thursday Cllr Paul Scott manipulates members of the planning committee to pass projects with really restricted play space for children – Leader Ali now realises he is the most unpopular member of council – watch this space.