After a decade of complaints and media exposés, living conditions endured in council temporary accommodation in Thornton Heath remain a scandal.
By STEVEN DOWNES
Gilroy Court, the budget hotel in Thornton Heath which Croydon and other councils use for temporary accommodation for the homeless, has been subject of yet another highly critical report today, with those unfortunate enough to need to stay there discovered to be enduring an infestation of rats and with fire escapes padlocked shut.
The appalling, dirty and unhealthy conditions in Gilroy Court shocked the nation when they were first exposed on national television. The small, overcrowded rooms, often housing families of three or four, were placed in the TV spotlight almost a decade before the damp and mouldy council flats in Regina Road caused another scandal for Croydon.
Nine years later, including after seven years of a Labour-run council, and nothing much has changed.
Residents forced to accept temporary accommodation are, by law, only supposed to stay in B&Bs and hotel rooms for no longer than six weeks. In March, Inside Croydon reported the case of young mum Shantal Moses who had been living in what she described as “a hell on earth” for 18 months.
Paula Peters is a disability rights campaigner who yesterday visited Gilroy Court.
“The conditions I saw were appalling,” Peters has written for the UnityNews website under a headline: Rats, damp and no escape – Croydon’s temporary accommodation nightmare.
“I can’t stop thinking of what I saw, the smell of the damp, the mice eating residents’ food and the padlock on a fire door.”
While at Gilroy Court Peters visited Ryan, who is 40 and has just come out of hospital, where he had been treated for six months after suffering a stroke. “He sits in a broken wheelchair. He was sofa-surfing in Sutton with friends,” Peters writes.
“He’s got no use of one arm and very little use of his other arm. He has carers come in four times a day. He gets Universal Credit, but has to find £200 per month for his rent.”
Ryan has been allocated a room that is without wheelchair accessible doorways, and with no obvious means of evacuating the building in the event of a fire or other emergency. Worse, the fire escapes in the building have been padlocked.
“There were hundreds of rooms, each room housing a family they have an electric hob right on top of the sink. The windows barely open. If there is a fire, they can’t get out,” Peters said.
“The place is infested with rats and mice. On the day I visited a resident was bitten by a rat and ended up in Mayday Hospital.”
Peters says that many of the Gilroy Court residents are suffering with mental distress or are disabled people. Gilroy Court accommodates homeless people not just from Croydon, but also from Kingston, Lambeth, Wandsworth and Sutton.
“Single-parent families, families with nowhere else to go. The rent is £900 a month,” she says.
“The housing benefit component of Universal Credit doesn’t cover the full rental cost, so families have to pay the shortfall.
“There is one washing machine being shared by 200 families. It’s often not working properly. The families have to pay £27 per month to use it.
“Everyone is on Universal Credit. Many getting what hours [of work] they can to eat, but the more they earn, the more DWP take the support away.”
In the case of Ryan, he’s waiting for his PIP – Personal Independence Payment. He’s not heard yet.
Peters writes, “He was happy to talk to me. He has a social worker he has seen once in four months. He didn’t have a lot to eat.
“He burst into tears when we gave him some food and £20 to help with living costs. He was so grateful for the visit and happy to speak to us. We got his permission to speak to Sutton Council and write letters for him.
“His last words as we left were, ‘Get me out of here. I don’t want to be in here’,” Peters writes.
In 2012, with justifiable and righteous indignation, a Croydon councillor called for Gilroy Court to be closed down because of its many shortcomings and inadequacies as short-term accommodation. That councillor was Alison Butler, who went on to be the council cabinet member for housing from 2014 until 2020. Gilroy Court continued to be used as temporary accommodation.
Having visited Gilroy Court yesterday, Peters has a message for Butler’s successors at Croydon Council: “These rooms are not fit for human habitation and action is urgently required.
“Sort the residents out with a decent place to live. This place needs closing down.
“This is the reality of temporary accommodation in the UK. The housing crisis affecting this country is brutal and needs our urgent attention.”
- Listen to the Inside Croydon podcast interview with Willis Court resident Shantal Moses by clicking here
Read more: ‘My family’s hell on earth’: 18 months in a Croydon B&B
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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