Treat homeless families with 'more humanity', Camden Council urged
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Camden Council has been urged to treat vulnerable families with "more humanity” after the Ham&High reported residents' claims of “harassment” and threats of homelessness.
Residents from England's Lane Residence in Belsize Park – the majority of whom are single mothers who have fled domestic abuse – say they are being "forced" into unsuitable housing outside Camden after living in temporary accommodation inside the borough for years.
With its lease on the building set to expire in March, the council has tried to move out all of the homeless families there by Christmas, but some remain and are yet to be rehoused.
A Camden lawyer representing some of the residents blamed the council’s housing policies for “uprooting communities”, while a local women’s organisation called for greater protection of the vulnerable families.
Opposition councillors from Belsize said the town hall should "learn the lessons" over its “barbaric” treatment of residents.
Camden Council said it was “at pains” to listen to families’ concerns but “regrettably” wasn’t able to rehouse all residents in the borough due to limited social housing and unaffordable private rents.
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Belsize councillor Luisa Porritt (Lib Dem) said families needed to be moved into more secure housing that was considerate of their individual circumstances.
She highlighted the difficulties residents had faced over the years to "make ends meet” while rebuilding their lives following domestic abuse.
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Cllr Porritt said: “I’m sad to see a number of families, many of whom have extensive ties to the community here in Camden, being moved out of the borough.
“I sincerely hope Camden Council will offer residents the opportunity to return to the borough they call home and that it will provide support services to ensure they can settle in their new areas, especially for those being moved out of London.
“It has been disturbing to hear from families in recent weeks who feel they are being pressured to move out of their homes right before Christmas, to places where they do not want to live, amid a global pandemic.
“I hope the council will learn lessons from its handling of this situation and treat residents facing uncertainty over their housing situation with more humanity in future.”
Belsize councillor Steve Adams (Conservative) said the council should not “compound” the poor conditions residents faced in England's Lane by treating them “barbarically” now.
He said families were “squeezed” into rooms which faced “rife rodent infestation”. He said one boy was unable to sleep without a light on for fear of mice.
Cllr Adams told this newspaper: “Camden should not be putting residents it has forced to live in such poor conditions at the back of the queue.”
The Belsize councillor said the rehousing process “failed to meet expectations that residents rightly have”.
He challenged the council’s allocation of housing points and its “dependence” on “inappropriate ‘temporary’ housing”.
“Residents should not be sat in temporary accommodation for years on end, and it should not be run down because Camden thinks those in temporary accommodation don't matter,” he said.
“Temporary housing should be housing of an acceptable standard occupied on a temporary basis, not substandard housing used on a temporary basis because it cannot be used for permanent accommodation.”
Derek Bernardi, a senior housing solicitor from Camden Community Law Centre, said: “A major reason why homeless families have historically been stuck in England’s Lane for so long is because of Camden Council’s housing policies.
“The council generally only offers social housing to families who have been homeless since before 2013, and even then only in very limited circumstances.
“For people who have become homeless more recently, the only option is to rent privately. This usually means having to move out of Camden because private rents are too expensive.
“These practices result in communities being uprooted and people being removed from their support networks.”
Lisa Longstaff, a spokesperson for Women Against Rape, which is based at Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town, called the hostel a “lifeline" for survivors of domestic violence.
She said: “They [the council] should be rehousing these families locally not dispersing them all over the country where they know nobody, putting them at further risk of violence from those who may treat them as ‘outsiders jumping waiting lists’.
“Women’s lives matter, whatever our country of origin, having lived in the borough for years or more recently.”
Camden’s housing chief Cllr Meric Apak (Labour) called the council a “leader” across London in preventing homelessness.
At England's Lane Residence, he said that the remaining families continued to receive support so that they could find suitable accommodation elsewhere.
“Despite their existing small living spaces, some families have told us that they feel safe in England’s Lane and that they are concerned about moving into their own accommodation or that they may be unable to stay in Camden,” Cllr Apak said.
“We understand their concerns and our move on team have worked in partnership with many of Camden’s support and social care services to try to reduce these anxieties.
“We are at pains to listen and respond to any concerns of residents, but regrettably it has not been possible to meet everyone’s accommodation preference.
“The majority of families requested housing in Camden, but due to the extremely high demand for our limited supply of social housing, we were not able to guarantee all homeless households an offer under our allocations scheme.”