‘We are still human’: homeless households speak out over living conditions

Photograph of Hackney city scape.

Homeless households in Hackney have spoken out about their negative experiences in temporary accommodation. - Credit: Hackney council

A group of 27 homeless households in temporary accommodation in Hackney have spoken out over their living conditions in the borough.

The residents, who live in a mixture of hostels and self-contained flats, report a range of issues, including the level of support and a lack of access to basic facilities, including washing machines and wi-fi.

Among the more damning findings from the residents’ testimony, presented in a joint report from Shelter, Healthwatch Hackney and NHS Community Voice, is that only a quarter of the group said they had a housing officer after six months in temporary accommodation. 

More than half did not know who their housing officer or main contact at Hackney was, and 81 per cent said they were not told how to access local services.

Malak, who lives in a local hostel with her partner and 16-month-old daughter, said doing the laundry is a "constant battle" with just three washing machines for more than 100 rooms.

She said: “If you see a washing machine free you’ve just got to get in there. It’s a total game of chance if there’s one free – usually it’s choc-a-bloc."

Wi-fi is not provided at her hostel which she says has made it hard to work from home during the pandemic, only having access to the internet via her phone. 

Another hostel resident Cristina added: “I don’t have any support besides my neighbours. Even though we’re in a hostel, we are still human. When the council put you here, they forget about you.”

Most Read

In September 2020, 3,319 households and nearly 4,000 children, were recorded as homeless and in temporary accommodation in the borough.

According to the residents' testimonies, 62 per cent had no access to wi-fi, whether free or paid.

A third did not have access to washing machines and 66pc shared a room with at least one child, with 80pc saying they did not think their accommodation was suitable.

Overall 78pc said living in temporary accommodation had impacted on their mental health

The report also finds residents struggling with the level of disrepair in their homes amid worries over safety. 

Around two thirds of problems were not remedied within four weeks of being reported, with 15pc not repaired at all. 

Hostel resident Habbiba said: “The cooker has been broken for three weeks and a burst pipe leaks into the room. I still haven’t been moved."

Romany-Jade, was robbed in her hostel as her windows were not secure. She said: "The person was found not guilty and they still haven’t moved me. My child cries all the time. I feel like I’m dying slowly.”

The report is part of a joint campaign between Shelter and Healthwatch Hackney to support residents in calling for changes in the practice of Hackney Council and other landlords.

Five recommendations have been made, including on access to wi-fi and laundry facilities, and on the level of support.

Amy Wilkes, Shelter London Hub Manager, said: “We know the issues raised by residents in Hackney are seen in other boroughs too. So, I am excited this truly resident-led campaign will begin to address the problems with temporary accommodation."

A spokesperson for Hackney Council said it welcomed the report and recommendations, adding: "The aims of Shelter and the council coincide, to provide the very best accommodation that is possible and support for our most vulnerable residents."

Hackney Town Hall entrance. Picture: Hackney Council

Hackney Town Hall entrance. Picture: Hackney Council - Credit: If you have not been credited to

The council spends £10 million every year on temporary accommodation provision for homeless households and says it has the largest temporary accommodation hostel stock in London.

It also provides temporary accommodation for 1,400 households outside the borough and is currently undertaking a multi-million-pound hostel refurbishment project to provide accommodation for single rough sleepers with "the very highest needs".

The spokespersons said despite the pandemic and cyber attack on council services: “Staff work tirelessly to provide multi-layered help to our homeless residents, continually looking for ways to make change for the better."

Improvements are being rolled out will include free wi-fi to all council hostels over the next year, installing laundry facilities where possible, working on improved crisis prevention and providing hostel residents with accommodation guides.

To find out more about the campaign, contact Tyrone Scott, Shelter London’s Community Organiser, on tyrone_scott@shelter.org.uk, or on 0344 515 22 22.