Hackney death hostel resident: ‘This isn’t help, you’re paying £264 a week to kill me’
- Credit: Archant
After a man’s decomposing body was found in shocking conditions at a homeless hostel in Hackney this month, investigations journalist EMMA YOULE meets a domestic abuse victim who lives at the hostel, and asks if the accommodation is suitable for a woman in her situation?
For most of us home is a refuge, but former fashion stylist Manuela experiences fear every day because of the place she is forced to live.
Four years ago the brunette, who weighs just six-and-a-half stone, fled from an abusive relationship with a man who beat her.
Her life spiralled out of control and, without a job or home, six months ago she was placed into a cramped hostel room at the Shuttleworth hostel in Hackney’s Well Street costing £264 a week.
It has stripped the 38-year-old of all hope.
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“This is not help, living in this way,” she says. “Yes it’s true that I’m not on the street, but this is a lot of money to pay and they should give you some support, not just money.
“If you put me in a place like this you are not helping me to get a life, you are paying to kill me actually; because you put me in a situation where I can’t live freely and I can’t feel normal. It’s not suitable living conditions for a human being.”
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The Shuttleworth has come under fire following the death of resident Joseph Coughlin, 44, on June 15. His room had not been checked for at least three days when his decomposing body was found.
The hostel’s management insist they follow strict procedures for checking rooms, tackling anti-social behaviour and say the Shuttleworth meets all regulations governing temporary accommodation.
But Manuela has condemned conditions at the hostel, where there have been lurid reports of bed bugs and cockroaches, and people smoking crack cocaine and dealing drugs in corridors.
Space is also at a premium and suitcases are piled high in her tiny box room which contains just a bed, a wardrobe, a fridge, a sink, and a toilet.
Yet more shocking are Manuela’s descriptions of the psychological torment of living in an environment where she feels constantly unsafe.
“Since I’ve lived here I’ve got ill, I have panic attacks all the time,” she says.
“I tried in some way to look for a job but sometimes I can’t even go out. My body is tired. It’s like I don’t have any energy, I don’t have any hope to keep me going.”
She freezes with fear each time an unknown man knocks on her door and says she is forced to cook late at night as she is scared of being cornered in the small communal kitchen.
Manuela and others living at the Shuttleworth are also terrified of being evicted if they speak out about conditions at the privately-run hostel.
“If you shut up here, then they leave you in peace,” she says. “If you make the point that things are not right then you are terrible, they’re never going to help you.”
Manuela’s life has changed unimaginably since she left Milan in 2009 to come to London to learn English.
At that time she was a successful 31-year-old fashion stylist earning 2,000 Euros a week and she still hopes to rebuild her life and somehow escape the dire situation she is in.
“I want a normal place to live, where I’m surrounded by normal people, people who have a life and hope,” she says. “Here no one is happy to be alive. You live in an environment where everyone is out of society.”
The management of the Shuttleworth, which houses only the statutorily homeless, insist it meets all laws governing temporary accommodation.
Hostel manager Ola Ayeni told the Gazette its room prices vary from £182 to £252 a week and include all utility bills, council tax, a free breakfast, free wi-fi and a subsidised laundry.
He said: “We are very disappointed about the misinformation being propagated by your article about the accommodation provided at the Shuttleworth and standards at the hostel.
“With regard to the resident who has disclosed a background of domestic violence, the resident has been placed by the council (Tower Hamlets) while she awaits an offer of next stage accommodation and any support needs are met via engagement with the relevant support organisations or professionals.”
A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets Council said: “Along with other London local authorities we place homeless households in the Shuttleworth, about a third of which are currently referred by Tower Hamlets. We will be seeking an assurance from Hackney Council that the Shuttleworth meets the standards expected and will also be undertaking our own urgent inspection of the premises.”
COMMENT: ‘THERE ARE HUGE HURDLES TO OVERCOME’
Cllr Philip Glanville, Hackney Cabinet Member for Housing
“The sad death at Shuttleworth Hotel is troubling and, alongside the concerns expressed by some residents, serves to highlight the challenges faced by those in housing need.
“The council inspected the hostel in May. It was rated, against London guidelines, as satisfactory. We also undertook another inspection yesterday to see what else we can do and we will work with other councils and local police to find out what can be improved.
“London and Hackney are facing unprecedented demand for housing.
“Government policies, like the Right to Buy, cuts to genuinely affordable housing delivery and the failure to control rising private rents have combined to create an unprecedentedly hostile time for councils trying to provide new homes.
“There is also the ongoing impact of benefit cuts in an era of rising rents.
“Despite the immense challenges, the council will do all it can to support those in housing need. We have expanded our temporary accommodation. We are making better use of empty homes earmarked for regeneration, bringing them into use as temporary accommodation.
“We have opened London’s first one-stop-shop for single homeless people at the Greenhouse Hub.
“Hackney is one of the biggest council home-builders in the country.
“In addition, I have been campaigning for a better private rental sector, including the stabilisation of rents and longer tenancies.
“There are huge hurdles to overcome but we are determined to do all we can to support those in housing need, in the face of what can seem like insurmountable challenges.”