‘Overcrowded and filthy’: Council admits Ilford homeless hostel is ‘not good enough’
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 August 2018 | UPDATED: 07:24 08 August 2018
Homeless families are living in hostel rooms caught at the sharp end of the housing crisis. EMMA YOULE reports in the second of our Hidden Homeless series – as the council leader admits some hostels are past their sell-by dates
For more than a decade young mother Sirah has been homeless and forced into a “merry-go-round” of moves from one place to another.
The mum-of-three has lived in Redbridge all her life but ran away from home at 19 due to family troubles and was sofa surfing for years – working but just about scraping by.
After having children she moved on to housing benefit, but could no longer afford the steep £835 rent on the one-bedroom flat where she was living.
She fell into financial arrears, her mental health spiralling into depression and anxiety, and she could see no way out.
In a bleak reflection of the severity of housing crisis in Redbridge, Sirah, 29, was relieved when she was evicted and moved into a homeless hostel.
“I feel like I can manage my money more,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people here who are ungrateful for the conditions.
“They expect five star, but we have to be realistic, we are homeless, we’re struggling with money and that’s the reason we are here.”
Sirah, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, has been living in council-run Hyleford Hostel in Boundary Road, Ilford, ever since.
It is the second time she has ended up there.
She is one of 128 homeless families who were placed into hostels in Redbridge in 2017-18.
Another 189 were housed into B&Bs, although council leader Jas Athwal says this number has significantly reduced since.
Sirah says people are angry about how they are treated by the local authority.
“It’s actually the council that is the problem as they don’t give us long term solutions, these are short term options,” she said.
She has been told she can expect to wait more than 15 years for a council house, even though she joined the housing register a decade ago.
And she fears she will face a daunting move back into an unaffordable private rented flat as she can’t stay at the hostel permanently.
“I have no problem waiting in the hostel temporarily,” she said. “I do understand there is a waiting list and process. But I am scared stiff of the struggle of becoming homeless for the third time running. I won’t cope.
“If they give me private rented accommodation again I will just be back in that scenario where landlords can evict you or put up the rent at any time.”
Jadea Rolston, 17, who is transgender, lived at Hyleford with her dad and brother, 14, until two and a half months ago after a family breakdown left them homeless.
The family shared one room, which Jadea says “reeked to high heaven of human waste”, and she found the conditions difficult to cope with.
“This is one of the worst places ever to house people, if you can call it that,” said the teenager. “How this place was deemed fit for people to live in I will never know. The rooms are overcrowded and filthy.”
The council leader admitted conditions are simply not good enough.
“My heart goes out to the people who live there because I’ve been to Hyleford, it’s actually in my ward and I’m responsible as a local councillor,” said Cllr Athwal. “What we’re looking at is a complete rebuild of the whole site, because I do believe it’s way past its shelf life.”
Redbridge has plans to move Hyleford, Seven Kings lorry Park, and a site in Clements Road about 100 yards away from the town hall, into a new wholly-owned council housing company, set up to facilitate construction projects.
“These are the first three sites we are looking at to try and completely redevelop, so if people are on hard times they can at least live in quality accommodation,” Cllr Athwal said.
The town hall is also considering buying pre-fabricated housing units for homeless families, which will allow it to rehouse people at Hyleford while it considers options for the site.
“They’re purpose-built homes but they’re temporary and have a shelf life of 15 to 20 years,” said Cllr Athwal.
“You can have a two bedroom house with a fully fitted out kitchen, a bathroom and a toilet, so that people don’t have to share with anybody.”
The council last year bought the St Georgio hotel in Gants Hill – and the famous Faces nightclub below it – in its continuing drive to purchase properties to house homeless families rather than paying skyrocketing rents to landlords.
“We took a tremendous amount of flack for that one,” says the council leader. “What would a council do with purchasing a nightclub? But it wasn’t the nightclub that we were purchasing, it was the housing above.”
He said the council is doing its best to improve homeless housing provision.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that the standard is raised,” he said.
“But raising that standard is going to take a little bit of time.”
NEXT WEEK: The council leader sets out his vision for 1,000 new council houses in Redbridge and explains how he is “overcoming bureaucracy and blockages” to build homes