Revealed: Shocking 'modern-day slum' conditions at Hackney hostel for homeless people
PUBLISHED: 09:35 23 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:17 23 June 2016
In the wake of a man's death this week, the Gazette went behind closed doors at the homeless hostel where councils pay up to £255 a week to house vulnerable people in rooms no bigger than prison cells
In a tiny box bedroom at a homeless hostel in Hackney, a man in full-body decontamination suit and gas mask mops up the aftermath of Joseph Coughlin’s death.
A stained mattress is turned on its side, the floor glistens with bleach, and a black suit jacket hangs limply in a wardrobe above a small suitcase.
The scene is a chilling epitaph to a man who was, as a coroner’s court would hear just days later, somebody’s son and brother.
Dublin-born Mr Coughlin, 44, was found lifeless in his room at the Shuttleworth Hotel last Wednesday – three days after he last signed the register at the privately-run hostel.
His room was not checked until other residents raised the alarm and the death has sent shock waves among others living at the hostel, who told the Gazette this week: “We feel we have been left here to die.”
In the wake of the death, the Gazette went behind closed doors at the hostel in Well Street to investigate conditions.
Inside, we found cramped rooms, some rife with bed bugs, that are barely the width of two single beds and residents expected to share small communal kitchen, shower and toilet facilities.
We were told of historic cockroach and rat infestations, and drug dealing and violent fights erupting in the corridors.
A 54-year-old woman, placed at the Shuttleworth after being evicted from her family home, said: “There has been drug dealing in here; a punch-up; there are machetes and crow bars in here. I don’t really feel safe.”
Local authorities including Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets pay up to £255 a week in housing benefit to place residents in these squalid conditions.
With 120 rooms squeezed into the detached property, at full occupancy the owners could be netting up to £30,600 a week – a staggering £1.6million a year.
Critics say the rooms are vastly overpriced and not fit for purpose, and campaigners have demanded action to end a system that allows private landlords to profit from the misery of London’s housing crisis.
Jacob Wills of Hackney Digs, a community group that lobbies for housing reform, said: “It seems that the people who are being housed at this hostel are people that have been through the councils’ homelessness process.
“They are in a lot of need, and it’s because of that need that private landlords are preying on them essentially to secure the full local housing allowance out of the council.”
The Shuttleworth’s management insists it complies strictly with all laws governing bedsit accommodation and said it has strict procedures in place to deal with “drug dealing or criminal activity on the premises.”
Ola Ayeni, hostel manager, said: “Shuttleworth Hostel is not supported accommodation. Our residents are placed in the temporary accommodation as a means of meeting their housing need while their homelessness applications are investigated or an offer of next stage accommodation made.
"These people are in a lot of need, and it’s because of that need that private landlords are preying on them essentially to secure the full local housing allowance out of the council"
“The support element is provided by various support organisations linked in with the resident and involved in their ongoing care.”
But Islington Council called on Hackney to urgently check conditions at the hostel, which was last inspected in May.
Islington director of housing and adult social services, Sean McLaughlin, said: “We are deeply concerned about these allegations and we are pleased that Hackney Council is investigating further.”
Hackney Council said it is doing all it can to provide decent accommodation for the 11,500 people on its housing waiting list.
Cllr Philip Glanville, cabinet member for housing, said: “London is facing an unprecedented demand for social housing. Hackney is one of the biggest council home builders in the country, but despite this, we have a housing waiting list of 11,500 and 2,500 people are currently living in temporary accommodation.
“There simply isn’t enough housing to provide everyone with their own home but we do as much as we can for those who need it.
“Shuttleworth offers secure general needs accommodation for a small number of people and residents are supported into more sustainable, long-term living arrangements.”
Hackney is building more than 3,000 new homes and has bought a 56-bed hostel to add to the eight it already owns to try and tackle the issue of low housing stock.
Meanwhile, an inquest into Mr Coughlin’s death was opened and adjourned at Poplar Coroner’s Court on Monday.
During the short hearing, the court was told the 44-year-old has a mother and brother living in Stevenage.
A post mortem examination was unable to determine a cause of death but police said there were no suspicious circumstances.
No further information was given about how Mr Coughlin came to live at the hostel where he died forgotten and alone.
* If you knew Mr Coughlin, or if you have a story about housing conditions in Hackney, contact investigations journalist Emma Youle on 020 7433 0122 or firstname.lastname@example.org
HOSTEL CONDITIONS: ‘Our mental health is left in tatters’
Residents at the Shuttleworth Hotel paint a bleak picture of the daily grind of life at the hostel.
Many living there have mental health problems, not helped by the cramped conditions in the cell-like bedrooms.
One female resident, 38, a victim of domestic violence, told the Gazette: “I cut myself when I first had to live here.
“You take anti-depressants or pills and then you sleep for three days and you wake up and think: ‘How can I live like this, in these conditions?’
“These are not human living conditions.”
Others raised fears that private hostels bear the brunt of housing vulnerable people who should receive more specialist support.
A 38-year-old father, who ended up in the Shuttleworth after his marriage broke down, said: “There’s a guy in here who talks to himself and he shouldn’t be here – he should be in the Homerton secure unit.
“Even when I speak to the management they say they don’t know what the council is thinking putting him in here.
“I feel like I’m in danger. I don’t feel safe. I’m not on drugs or alcohol or anything and I feel vulnerable to what’s going on.”
Others suffer the psychological torment of sleeping every night in rooms ridden with bed begs.
A 54-year-old woman said: “I had bed bugs in my room for nine weeks. There are bites all over my legs and arms and neck. I’ve been to the doctor so many times.”
Shuttleworth confirmed 11 rooms are currently infested.
VALUE FOR MONEY?
The Gazette was keen to find out what properties are available to rent in Hackney for the £255 a week it costs to stay in single room at the Shuttleworth Hotel.
A search of Rightmove this week revealed details of three properties available.
There are two fully furnished studio flats in Homerton High Street advertised at £196 per week not including bills.
Both look clean and inviting and include a double bed, kitchenette with cooker and microwave, a dining table and chairs, and a private shower and toilet.
A two double-bedroom mid-terrace house in Merriam Avenue, Hackney Wick, with a large garden is also advertised at £85 a week.