Resident says 'Mentally it’s destroyed me living there'
Above: a smashed window in Nightingale Square, which Ms Stanislaus said has been broken for a year
Wandsworth’s homeless families are having to put up with “prison-like” conditions in temporary accommodation, according to one resident.
Hannah Stanislaus has lived in Nightingale Square for two years, and faces the prospect of another two despite being told she would have been given a permanent home by now.
She said the worst thing she has come across in her time there so far was a partially sighted woman accidentally eating mouse droppings because the rodents had found their way into the cupboards where she kept her plates.
“It breaks my heart,” Hannah said. “How can they let that happen?”
She has a long list of problems with Nightingale Square: broken furniture in the flats, smashed windows (hers has been broken for a year), black mould, damp, and infestations of insects, mice, and spiders, among many other issues.
Hannah said, “The living conditions are closer to a prison. I call it Nightingale Square Prison.”
A survivor of domestic violence, Hannah spent seven months in a women’s refuge before being moved between two hotels and then into Nightingale Square.
She suffers from several mental health conditions, and lives in the small flat with her three-year-old daughter Lucy.
She said: “It’s exhausting, because we have to share a bedroom.
“When I have a mental health crisis, or Lucy has a meltdown, there’s nowhere to go. My mum lived there as a small child 50 years ago, and the conditions haven’t changed.
“It makes me think about my grandchildren. Are they going to have to live here with the same problems?”
Above: mould in Nightingale Square
Hannah said there are 92 families in the square, split between four blocks, each with very little space and often with children sleeping in the living areas – if they are not sharing a room with a parent.
She said there are broken security doors, and the blocks all have the same access code. She also reports that when getting back to the square at night, there is little light outside.
She added: “Mentally, it’s destroyed me, living there. My home is not a home. It’s cramped; there’s nowhere for Lucy to play.
“It makes me sick.”
Hannah also complains of people taking drugs in the bathrooms - which do not have locks - and the residents “haven’t got a clue who they are”.
A Wandsworth Council spokesperson said: “The council has spent £3m upgrading Nightingale Square so that almost all flats are now self-contained with their own kitchen and bathroom.
“Last year, £60,000 was spent on further repairs and upgrades, and we have a comprehensive ongoing programme of work there.
“Twelve flats based in the old convent building do share bathrooms, because the building’s listed status made it more difficult to convert.
“The average length of stay across all our hostels is just under two years – typical for an inner-London borough. Some stays are shorter and a few are longer. Longer stays are likely to be families awaiting a larger property.
“Since receiving recent complaints we have carried out several inspections attended by senior officers, ward councillors and the cabinet member for housing and saw no evidence of major systemic problems such as damp at Nightingale Square.
“However, we will continue to thoroughly investigate this issue and will be carrying out extensive ‘conditions and occupancy checks’ which will get to the root of any problems there may be.
“We are sometimes notified of infestations, and in all cases they have been promptly dealt with.
“We have on-site caretakers who carry out repairs – if a problem such as a broken window or broken lock is reported to us, it will be repaired. As part of our longer-term investigation into conditions at Nightingale Square, we will consider the request for different door codes and more outside lights – although we will need to ensure outdoor lights are not so numerous and bright that they cause a nuisance to residents.”
The local Labour opposition speaker on housing, Councillor Paul White, said he had heard a council officer telling residents that Nightingale Square was the best temporary accommodation in the borough.
Mr White said, “If this is the best they can do, then we are in a pretty sorry state.
“The growth in homelessness is not abating. People are staying there for much longer.”
He pointed to there being just 60 social rent homes built by the council last year, and only 34 additional council homes planned in the huge regenerations of the Winstanley and York estates and in Nine Elms.
He added, “We are not going to improve the situation as far as I can see.
“There’s plenty of opportunity to actually affect the situation, but the Conservative council is turning a blind eye to people like Hannah.”
The council spokesperson said the authority plans to build 1,000 homes in the next five to eight years on land it owns, 60 per cent of which is being classed as “affordable”, a definition that can include social housing.
Of those, 165 are currently being built – all to be low costs rent – with the next phase of 291 expected by 2021.
Tooting MP, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, said the situation “needs to change”.
She said, “The complete lack of facilities at Nightingale Square hostel and the poor condition of each property is truly astounding. Parents do not even have the space to put up a cot in the room they share with their children.
“What's more, upon moving in, residents are told that this accommodation is temporary – however many tenants, some of whom have fled domestic abuse, find themselves there three or four years later, with no idea as to when they will be rehoused.
“Parents are not even able to give their children space to call their own.
“Wandsworth Council is not awarding the children living at Nightingale Square hostel the opportunity to grow up in a world of possibility and hope – this needs to change.”
Written with contributions from Callum Rutter, Local Democracy Reporter
March 4, 2019