Dozens of families made homeless in the deadly Grenfell Tower fire are set to spend Christmas in hotels, where campaigners claim children are forced to sleep on the floor and survivors have no access to hot meals.
Almost six months on from the blaze that claimed 71 lives, 105 households are still living in hotels, council figures revealed today.
With some survivors now claiming a lack of support from authorities means it feels as though they are being “penalised for being alive”, campaigners are demanding urgent action from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).
“They need to start treating people with respect,” urged the director of campaign group Justice4Grenfell, Judy Bolton, at a protest outside the year’s final council meeting on Wednesday night.
“They need to start treating people with dignity. And they need to take responsibility for the travesty they have caused.”
As calls of “no justice, no peace” rang out through the crowd, Bolton – who lost family members in the fire – continued: “Why are there children sleeping on floors in a hotel? Why are disabled people having to live in hotels?
“They can’t use bathrooms? They can’t put their children to bed, they can’t make a simple dinner.”
According to Bolton, families living in hotels “still need feeding” in the same way they did in the days after the fire, “because they don’t get a hot meal there”.
She continued: “We’ve got Christmas coming up, and that means for those school holidays, and families as well, they will be isolated.”
The calls come after it emerged that of the 209 households made homeless in the Grenfell Tower fire, 118 are still living in temporary accomodation. Of these families, 30 have children under the age of 18.
Just 42 families have been moved into new permanent homes since June 14, while 49 are living in temporary residences.
At tonight’s demonstration – where protestors waved placards demanding ‘Justice For Grenfell’ – Labour MP Kate Osamor told crowds that they must continue to “keep up the pressure” on authorities.
“We must never ever forget those who lost their lives in vain, those survivors, those children who have lost their parents and loved ones,” she said.
“We must stand together for them.”
But the the council claims it has been working “around the clock” to help rehouse families who lost their homes in the fire, having committed £235 million to the cause.
According to council figures, another 41 households have now accepted permanent homes, but have yet to move in.
Council leader Elizabeth Campbell said the issue was a “priority”, admitting that “for some the pace is too slow”.
“Every week, we are seeing more families move out of hotels and into a home,” she said in a statement.
“All of us sympathise with those who are still living in hotels with their children, especially at Christmas.
“I have always said we can only move at the pace at which victims and survivors feel comfortable – no-one should be rushed into making such an important decision about where they are going to live.
“However, I do accept, for some the pace is too slow.
“There are many reasons for this, as everyone here knows it takes time to buy a house, to exchange, to complete, to paint, to furnish. It also takes time to buy a range of homes that will suit each individual and families differing needs.”
“This is why we have also made offers of temporary, privately rented homes to those still in hotels,” she added.
“Some have taken up this offer whilst others have said that they do not want to move twice.
“But, in the coming months, I expect many more households will move into their new homes.”
The council claims that it is “on course” to meet its target to rehouse everyone by June 2018, one year on from the fatal blaze.
But at a meeting at Notting Hill Methodist Church yesterday, one former resident – who asked to remain anonymous – told councillors it felt as if her family are being “penalised for being alive”
According to the Press Association, the woman told the meeting how her 66-year-old mother – who lived on the 23rd floor of the block of flats – had been shunned by mental health services and misled by housing officers.
“My mum is going to be 67 on Tuesday and she is still in a hotel – she has been in a hotel for six months,” the woman told the gathering.
“She is a refugee who lost her home in Eritrea who came here, but the thing that has been most traumatic for us has been dealing with members of the RBKC team, being taken from pillar to post.”
She continued: “My mother was saying to me, because she has faced trauma previously in her life as a political prisoner, she has compared this experience to being tortured back home.
“If that is not mental health, I don’t know what is.”
She expressed hurt that both her and her mother were discharged from the mental health services for simply saying they were not ready for treatment, but asking to be checked up on.
Her voice breaking, she continued: “I remember two little girls of three and five who have perished, they were our next door neighbours.
“But by having survived we are feeling penalised for being alive, that is how it feels.”
One councillor said her experience was a “disgrace” and NHS staff in attendance said it was “unacceptable” the pair were discharged, adding they were “really sorry” about the failures.