Homeless hostel families 'forced out of Camden by Christmas'
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Vulnerable families at a homeless hostel who want to stay in Camden say they are being “forced out by Christmas".
Around 10 out of 160 families are left in England’s Lane Residence in Belsize Park, which is run by Camden Council.
With its lease set to expire in March, the local authority has rehoused families from the temporary accommodation throughout the year, with some remaining in Camden or other London boroughs.
Other residents have been moved to, or offered housing as far as Wolverhampton and Yorkshire, the Ham&High understands.
The council has said residents will not be forced into "places which are not suitable for them" and that England's Lane Residence will save more than £1 million.
This newspaper understands the town hall has told residents they have to be moved out by the end of the year, three months before the lease is up.
Many of the residents, for whom English is often not their first language, are single mothers who have become homeless after fleeing domestic violence.
Despite being temporary housing, families have lived in England’s Lane Residence for years, with parents and their children often sharing a bed in the cramped accommodation.
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The block was designed to house single student nurses before it turned into a hostel in 2004.
The council’s lease on the building, which is owned by property developer Akelius, expires in March.
Families who have been unable to agree new housing with the council remain deadlocked at the hostel.
Many wish to remain in Camden for a range of personal reasons, such as not wanting to change their children's school, or being responsible for the daily care of their parents.
Residents still at the hostel have told this newspaper the council has tried to “force” them out by Christmas to accept housing in other parts of London, or the country, by threatening to make them homeless.
One email shared with the Ham&High, from the council to a resident, says: “As you did not accept the offer by the 5pm deadline your Homeless Application will now be closed.
“You will be accommodated for 28 days to give you time to find your own accommodation.”
The email continues: “You are aware that England’s Lane will now close. I’m afraid that you will not be able to stay at the hostel as repair work will commence and services such as electric and gas are likely to be out of use.”
At a Covid-19 panel meeting on Tuesday, Belsize councillor Luisa Porritt (Lib Dem) called the housing uncertainty “stressful for families who are already vulnerable in the midst of a pandemic”.
Calling for greater “flexibility” so that residents could move out beyond December, the London mayoral candidate said that residents “shouldn’t be having to accept” ill-suited accommodation.
In response, Camden’s housing chief Meric Apak (Labour, Kentish Town) said that the council was “not about to force residents into places which are not suitable for them”, and that officers were “continuing to engage with residents”.
In a separate statement to this newspaper, Cllr Apak said: “Our first priority always is to prevent homelessness, and we have been leaders in this throughout London. When this is not possible, we provide suitable alternative accommodation.
“England’s Lane hostel has provided much needed temporary accommodation to thousands of families over many years, but the council does not own it and has to pay a considerable sum each year for the lease to the company in a multi-national group that owns it.
“Ending the lease from March 2021, will free up resources to enable us to make a significant investment of £16m in converting two other council hostels in Camden Road and Chester Road that we do own, to provide larger rooms and better facilities for the residents.
“For the last year a dedicated team of support workers have been working tirelessly with all of our families in England’s Lane to help them find settled accommodation that is suitable for their individual requirements.
“We have helped more than 100 families move on successfully so far and the few remaining families will all be helped to move as soon as possible, as the Council has to carry out repair works before handing the building back to the owners in early March 2021.”