Recently, I paid a visit to the tenants of St. Michael’s Gate. Ever since I’ve heard of the case, I’ve been very concerned that they secure a positive outcome. I can’t say that I was reassured by what I saw.
One tenant’s set of woes was particularly striking: I met a woman who is a mother to three children. One child is autistic: being a responsible mother and doing her best to help her child, she had acquired a “sensory dog”. Much like a guide dog helps a blind person, a sensory dog helps those who struggle with their emotions. However, this family was informed dogs were not allowed: only a registered blind person could retain one. The dog has been re-homed; the child has not coped well with their beloved pet’s departure, they’ve manifested symptoms of stress that weren’t there while the dog was in situ. The housing there in isn’t particularly good. The property has storage heaters: these can burn one’s hand if touched, and the autistic child could very well do so without being aware of it as he does not feel pain and there is no fire guard. I visited the property with Councillor Matthew Mahabadi. The tenant is forced to switch off the heat at night, and hope the residual warmth will last until morning. The same tenant’s son suffers from asthma. The ill-ventilated housing exacerbates this condition. The company that manages St Michael’s Gate, Stef and Philips, based in London, have tried to squeeze as many people in that space as possible: the living room has had a partition wall installed to create an extra bedroom. This ensures conditions are even more cramped. For the privilege of living there, the cost is £245 per week. This is beyond most pay packets: the taxpayer picks up the rest. The council informed the tenant four days before Christmas she had 24 hours to accept this property or be placed in a Travelodge; they also advised if she is rehoused, they will only get 24 hours notice. Her autistic child doesn’t cope well with change; the council is aware of her child’s condition. Nevertheless, they don’t operate in a manner that suggests they care. The choice of cramped accommodation or a Travelodge looks particularly ludicrous, given that Barnet Council has seen what good value Peterborough housing can be and decided to invest in it to house their homeless and vulnerable people. In short, we have created a system whereby we house people in an inhumane manner, which is expensive, and ultimately, we as taxpayers pick up the bill. We not only pay for the rent, but also the cost of treating the conditions this housing exacerbates. The present system diminishes life chances, making it so problems are passed on to the next generation. We can do better than this.