Like all Londoners, we are devastated by the Grenfell tower tragedy. Our thoughts and solidarity are with everyone affected.
A totally preventable and political tragedy happened because the local council did not listen to the concerns of some of their most vulnerable residents and the council did not bother to check that the housing they have a responsibility for met the highest safety standards.
Listening to the residents of Grenfell tower explain how the council had ignored and neglected them and treated them with disrespect and contempt resonated a lot with some of our experiences when trying to raise very serious housing concerns. Many concerns were raised by Grenfell residents who are migrants and people who do not have English as a first language but they felt the response to them was: “you are a guest in this borough, and a guest in this country, you have no right to complain”.
In HASL we have often had our concerns ignored by the council or have been treated as an annoyance when we raise serious issues we are facing related to homelessness and unsuitable, unsafe and overcrowded housing conditions. In light of what has happened at Grenfell, where people raised concerns and were ignored, we do feel an added urgency and fear of what might happen if we are not listened to and people’s rights and needs are respected. Local councils must engage and respond to their residents.
One case in particular has deeply affected our group because of the seriousness of the housing conditions, the impact we can see them having on our members and the council’s appalling response. In our group, 4 migrant families living in appalling, inhumane and overcrowded conditions have highlighted this to the council for over an entire year. Not only have we been ignored but the council has blamed the families for their housing conditions saying they caused the overcrowding by a ‘deliberate act’. One of the council’s reasons for this was that the families should have found suitable housing for themselves on zoopla.com.
The families have highlighted how their housing is impacting on their children’s wellbeing. Babies who are learning to walk do not have adequate space. The families have explained that there was no way they would have caused these overcrowded conditions deliberately – an incredibly degrading thing to have to do. Overcrowded housing is unsafe housing. Victim blaming is not an acceptable response. It should not take a tragedy for local councils and government to listen to people affected by unsafe and bad housing.
We are calling on Southwark council and the councillor for housing Stephanie Cryan to engage meaningfully with these families, give them the help they are entitled to and talk with us about how we can support overcrowded families in the borough and other concerns that homeless and vulnerably housed people face. You can read and sign our petition here.
As a group of homeless and badly housed people in HASL and the London Coalition Against Poverty, we organise in solidarity with each other and fight together for housing justice. Supporting each other, we do make progress on our cases and situations that we know we could not have done alone, but the council still has a long way to go to provide adequate housing assistance and respect to their residents. If you are worried about unsafe, insecure, and bad housing in our communities, we invite you to get involved. We hope we can respond to calls from the Grenfell Tower community for support and solidarity.