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Protest at Alexandra Court in Hackney

May 21 2009
East London hostel dwellers take to the streets in protest against poor living conditions Dozens of residents from an East London hostel took to the streets last month in protest against the poor living conditions they have endured for months. The Pavement readers will be familiar with vast discrepancies in hostels, where conditions range from plush and hotel-like to squalid pits. And although organisations may take the time and money to make necessary improvements, in this instance, the residents we forced to take action to get their complaints heard. Alexandra Court in Hackney is home to roughly 100 people, many of whom are families and single parents from a variety of backgrounds. The 10-storey building is allegedly overrun with rats and bed bugs, and families have complained about the stairs and corridors being used by drug addicts and prostitutes. Vicky Laker has lived at Alexandra House with her 73-year-old mother and 16-month-old son since January. Her mother has not left the flat since they moved in because the lifts are always broken, but there are other worries too. "She has dementia," explained Ms Laker. "She is prone to wandering, and any little noise from outside can make her nervous." Residents have also complained that the rent - £350 a month - is sky high. "It is dark and dirty, and the rooms are appalling. We have bed bugs. The drug users are not with it - they are so scary and they could lash out at you any time," Ms Laker continued. "This place is an abyss." Other residents complained that drug users had chased their children through the hostel. A mother said her asthmatic child had suffered a severe attack after being forced to use the stairs after the lift broke down. Overcrowding means that a seven-year-old girl has to share a bed with her parents. The hostel manager's office is behind a secure gate, and the residents claim the phone and door are rarely answered. But Ms Laker's primary concern is the length of her stay. When she entered the hostel four months ago as a temporary resident, she hoped she would find a place in local authority housing. She feels that the council has let her down. "We desperately need to expose Hackney Council for not responding to our concerns," she said. "We hope this action by the residents will finally bring to the public's attention the fact that there is a case to be answered by Hackney Council and that we do, indeed, have the evidence." Roughly 70 protesters marched from Alexandra Court to the Hackney Council offices at around noon on April 12th. Some children donned pointed rat masks and residents carried gigantic syringes and bed bugs to illustrate the filth that had crowded their living space. About 15 police officers monitored the event, but the only trouble reported was a splattering of rain. The Pavement has been told that when the council discovered a protest was to take place, they began to clean up the hostel, but the majority of problems reported by residents are yet to be addressed. Anne-Marie O'Reilly, housing advocate from the London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP), said a security guard had now been placed on watch and some of the rooms had been cleaned. But although the council was quick to act when it heard about the demo, Ms O'Reilly added, they already seemed to be backtracking. "Initially the council agreed to a meeting with the residents on their terms, in a local church hall," she said. "But since then the Council have changed their minds and are requesting a meeting in their offices." At the time of going to press, the residents were making a decision on whether to accept the council's terms for a meeting or stand firm on their requests. In either instance, LCAP and the residents have promised to strive for a fair resolution, with further legal action anticipated. The residents' concerns are as follows: residents in hostel long-term, rather than finding secure accommodation; poor mattresses; overcrowded and dirty and conditions, with mice and bed bugs; council failing to make repairs - fire alarm going off all the time, lift not working, no heating in some rooms, and broken CCTV and gate; high rent (£350 per week); drug use on the stairs and in the halls; the building being used for prostitution.
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