Why were people sleeping in a London leisure centre opposite empty hotel rooms?

In the wake of Grenfell tower, you might not know - my mates didn’t - that at 8pm on Friday 23rd of June the Chalcot estate, 4 tower blocks about 3 miles down the road from Grenfell in Swiss Cottage, north west London was evacuated after after fire safety tests revealed they were covered in flammable cladding.

 

Almost a week later I went for a swim at Swiss Cottage leisure centre but was told I couldn’t because it was accommodation for homeless Chalcot residents. I’d read something was going on, but like all of us it’s easy to pretend this stuff isn’t happening and not really clock the impact because we’ve all got really important stuff to do, right?! But let me say that again; people were sleeping on airbeds in my local community sports centre for a week.

 

In the UK in 2017, it shouldn’t matter where exactly families are sleeping like they’re in a campsite and getting ready for school days in sports centre changing rooms. But it just seems even more stark and wrong when it’s happening a ten minute walk away from bouji Primrose Hill.

 

Why were people being forced to live like this? It’s actually opposite a luxury 4 star hotel - I called them to find out how many rooms they had. They were extremely cagey until I pretended I was operating on behalf of a donor who wanted to put up residents. To their credit were housing 20 families already (not sure who was paying), but they had 10 double rooms available that same night. It’s sister hotel, a five minute drive away could’ve accommodated 100 more people in double rooms. Why were they not being taken?

 

Camden council said they would reimburse hotel rooms up to £200 a night ‘they just need receipts’, but it’s not realistic to imagine families have spare cash to front a week in a central London hotel. My research tells me many of the alternatives they’re offering are in zone 3 Wembley.

 

I understand councils are under funded, I understand we’re in the midst of a housing crisis - I grew up and still live in social housing. My mum worked at Camden council for a bit. I’m trying to get a new place at the moment and understand first hand how hard it is to move within social housing - even when your needs warrant it. But I also understand I’m one of the lucky ones

 

What’s really pissed me off about this situation is that - in a borough that charges every household between £900 - £3000 a year in council tax, in one of the most expensive cities in Europe. We didn’t have the cash or admin capabilities to even give these residents their own rooms after we’d chucked them out because we hadn’t built their homes properly.

 

As Corbyn pointed out, the government technically does have the power to rush through a law allowing them to acquire (even temporarily) empty houses. The less robin hood tactic and more realistic approach would’ve been for the Camden to negotiate with the Marriott to get a deal on the hotel rooms that were a stone’s throw away and literally sitting empty. Why didn’t they do that as soon as they knew they work had to get done?!

 

When Swiss Cottage was closed I went to Kentish town sports centre where the pool was open and talked of my outrage to the guy on the desk who I know from going to the gym. He told me he lives in one of the blocks that was evacuated. He slept in his car that night as he didn’t fancy crashing with 2000 other people in the leisure centre and has been staying with a friend since.

 

Yesterday I did what any annoyed millennial would do - wrote some ranty tweets to the Camden councillor Georgia Gould. I felt bad after I did some research on her as she’s obviously a bit of a legend. A girl about my age, who went to the same school as some of my mates, and is actively doing something about this mess everyday while the rest of us just rant about it on the internet. I get how cool it was of her to make an executive decision to move people out of their block when she discovered it was unsafe. And I recognize she’s given residents allowances (£20 per person a day) and set up phone lines to help them out. Before this, she even wrote a book about how important it is that young people engage in politics, fairplay.

 

I don’t profess to know the totality of the situation and I know it’s not her fault, she did what was right. It’s just the fact is that someone further up the chain had more power and money to look after these people properly. And they simply didn’t. People were sleeping in the sports centre for a week! It’s an exciting time in history when young people are actually caring about politics. We’re going on marches, we’re using our vote, we’re getting our pop stars to say the right thing. We’re proven we’re pissed off and can make some noise, but why can’t we stop people down the road us getting chucked out of their flats and having to sleep in their cars?! It’s ridiculous.

Georgia Lewis Anderson