Disabled resident’s harrowing plea: ‘I don’t want to be in here’

After a decade of complaints and media exposés, living conditions endured in council temporary accommodation in Thornton Heath remain a scandal.

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.

Despite being in a wheelchair, Ryan has been allocated an upper floor room at Gilroy Court

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.

Back in 2012, Croydon’s then Tory-controlled council’s conduct was described as “an indictment of modern Britain”.

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.

Living conditions in Willis Court, next dooor to Gilroy Court, are inadequate and over-crowded

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.

Gilroy Court: despite all previous reports and complaints, Croydon and other councils continue to use the hotel for temporary accommodation

“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.

Padlocked: there’s no escape from Gilroy Court

“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.”

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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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Disabled resident’s harrowing plea: ‘I don’t want to be in here’

  1. The great thing about Inside Croydon is there’s always a quote from the past that doesn’t stand the test of time.

    In 2012 Tony Newman, then leader of the Labour group, said of Gilroy Court’s failings that were exposed by the BBC, “I am utterly disgusted. Croydon Tories have sunk to new depths and should be ashamed of themselves.”

    In 2014 he became leader of the Council, a job he held for nearly 7 years, but he did sod all about Gilroy Court.

    His sidekick, Alison Butler, who graduated from being Croydon Labour’s spokeswoman on housing to Deputy Leader responsible for housing said, “We are calling for the immediate removal of families from this low-grade accommodation” and promised that “a Labour Council in 2014 will introduce an acceptable housing standard programme and launch a major building programme that will mean more high quality homes for local people.”

    Like Tony, she did sod all, not only about Gilroy Court, but in providing high quality homes, thanks to her failed venture, Brick by Brick. And as ITV have demonstrated, she presided over abject failings in the choice of housing repair contractor and ensuring that council tenants weren’t left for years to endure flooded accommodation.

    At least Newman knew when the game was up and resigned. Butler’s still a serving councillor. Time she either slung her hook or was given the boot.

    • Fun Person At Parties says:

      Bruv, councils have had their central funding from government cut by 50% since 2010, if I’m not mistaken. Cynically to save money under the failed (ostensibly, in reality it has succeeded in privatising the country far futher and killing-off the “useless eaters” disabled like myself who is relatively-fortunate but let-down for decades too). What difference does the BRAND of the council make when they’ve got probably 250% less money than they need to fulfil their statutory duties? If New Labour hadn’t continued Thatcherite policies it might have helped, and if they’d built some council housing, it might have helped. Nothing was stopping them, since they were happy to borrow money anyway, right? So, the mass immigration – which we must be intellectually-honest about the effects of – caused LOTS of people to move here in 2003 onwards, who then had babies, which then needed paying for on an infrastructure level, and weren’t paying back in until they became 16-18 years old and started earning potentially and paying tax (along with their hard-working parents), but does that add-up, revenue-wise?) So now, we might get revenue from their children, finally, but we’ve cut the system to the bone and beyond, so even if tax revenue naturally rises, will it get spent on such things? Then factor in the sudden end of Austerity under Sunak, what a joke – then the pandemic kicks-in and suddenly it’s OK to borrow money now we’ve proven how nasty we can be to the sick and disabled, so the world bankers can respect our austerity and ability to pay interest before looking after our people. Do you see any alternative? So why pick on one politician or another? Sure, they are pretentious, and I feel no need to defend Labour councillors who don’t perform even in the context of difficulty… but are you putting the heat under the right powers-that-be? What did Stephen Fry say about voting once every five years being a way to wash our hands of responsibility for the intervening years in between? Thus a form of laziness and implying we get what we deserve. Look to the Dutch for pragmatic engineering of infrastructure and respect for keeping politics out of that, and look to the Swiss for, amongst other things, how to have an actual, sustainable democracy (AFAIK).

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