Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue



NHS trust squatter eviction raises moral questions

May 18 2009
Russell: Russell:
Charity evicts formerly homeless squatters from formerly empty building A group of squatters has been evicted by a charity that does not plan to demolish the building for two years. Five men were issued court papers in early April and told to leave their home of six months - a two-bedroom maisonette in Lambeth, south London. All but one are now back sleeping on the streets. The flat, which is owned by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust, is one of 16 in a large tower block which has stood empty for almost five years. The men spent six months in the property, but after a court order were forced to return to the streets - despite having offered to pay rent. This charity, which is part of the largest NHS trusts in the UK, claims it had no choice but to evict the men, as the flat was not considered fit for purpose. One of the squatters, Stephen Russell, had been sleeping rough for four years before he moved into the flat in Canterbury House. The 50-year-old, who is originally from Birmingham, said there was no need to evict squatters from the building, which had been empty for four years and would remain empty for a further two. He added: "We kept the place immaculately clean and got on with all the other tenants. We even used to do the shopping for one woman who was too old and struggled to do it herself. "We were very happy there and were no trouble to anyone. I just can't see why they wanted to kick us out," he added. "We offered to pay rent via housing benefit, but they would have none of it. We also offered to let the charity inspect it whenever they wanted too, but they weren't interested." "When we moved into the flat in November, it was in the middle of winter. I had spent three previous winters on the streets, sleeping on the steps of St Luke's Church in Chelsea. To have a roof over my head, the warmth of a home and the security of a locked door, was bliss. I just can't understand why they would want us out. "We were not causing any harm." The group was taken to court and issued with a writ to vacate the flat, said Mr Russell. He added: "I think there is a moral issue here as well. It's both disgusting and obscene to leave the flats empty when there is such a housing shortage in London. "In total, there are 16 flats, which will have been empty for six years. I think that this is unacceptable." The large block of flats is also the home to dozens of other paying tenants, who will have to be re-housed if plans go-ahead to demolish the building in 2009. Fellow squatter Ross Webster, 49, had been sleeping rough for two years before he moved into the apartment. Mr Webster, who grew up in Liverpool, said: "I find it strange that a charity would leave a property empty for so long in a city that's crying out for housing. "None of us are drug addicts, alcoholics or gamblers - just people who are trying to get a foot back on the ladder to normality. "When we went in there, it was wonderful. To have had the security and safety of a home and the freedom this offered was incredible. To be able to cook for ourselves and not live on free sandwiches meant we all became far more healthy, but now I am back on the streets." A spokesman for the charity, which raises funds for Guys and St Thomas' NHS Health Trust, said: "The people in 55 Canterbury House were illegally squatting. "It is the charity's responsibility as a registered landlord to ensure that its accommodation is fit for habitation. We were advised by our housing association, Passmeads, to decommission the property, as it failed to meet required standards. "On that basis, we could not have allowed the squatters to stay there." Canterbury House will only be demolished if Lambeth Council grants planning permission to build a new development in its place. This will be decided at the end of this month.