Almost two months from the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, the vast majority of people made homeless by the blaze are still in hotels – deeply traumatised and living in limbo.
Sadly, it’s not surprising that the survivors have not been permanently rehoused. Kensington and Chelsea, like all London boroughs, simply doesn’t have 150 spare, affordable houses sitting around empty to give to these families.
Victims of the fire have, rightfully, been given exceptional priority by the council for rehousing. It has outlined how homes will be allocated. Bereaved families will understandably be at the top of the list for a new home, with the council aiming to rehouse them within a year. The shortage of affordable homes means this will be hard, and yet it must be done.
But what of the traumatised families who, in the meantime, are surviving day to day in unfamiliar hotels? At Shelter we know all too well that cramped hotels and B&Bs are not suitable for housing people long term. In fact, it’s illegal for councils to put homeless children in B&Bs, except in an emergency, and then for not more than six weeks.
Our legal advisers spend a lot time negotiating with councils in London to try and get families moved, as they are often left to languish in this sort of accommodation. The Grenfell case is unprecedented, however, in that some residents have chosen to remain in hotels and not take the temporary accommodation offered. This might sound odd, given survivors say how hard it is to live their lives out of a plastic bag. However, many simply cannot face moving twice on top of the upheaval they have already endured.
Sadly, many families are simply still not in a position to come to terms with their future and where they will live. They are still grieving and in shock. Their time has been taken up with the process of formally identifying victims, some of whom may be their friends or family. As a result, housing slips far down the priority list.
Some families faced the all-too-familiar offer of unsuitable temporary accommodation – far from a parent’s work or children’s schools, with the prospect of creating even more upheaval. Wary perhaps of negative attention, the council has waived the normal rules that apply to homeless families, meaning the Grenfell survivors have far more freedom to reject unsuitable temporary accommodation. For many other families in London, the stark choice is often between a faraway cramped flat or nothing.
Life in these hotels remains then, the best of a truly awful set of options for people who have been through unimaginable pain. Shelter has been helping one resident, Elina, since she was forced to flee her home in a neighbouring block. She left with just her phone and a few belongings that were close at hand.
“I think the people here have a right to be angry,” she tells us. “They lost their families, they lost their kids, they lost all their lives.”
And what the future holds, Elina does not know. “I still have no answers,” she says. It’s a frustration echoed by many, as the slow wait for rehousing and the chance for a stable future goes on.
This is the second in a series of blog posts by Shelter for The New Statesman on Grenfell Tower. Read the first one here.