Camden flats: Evacuated family still 'has nowhere to go'

Diona Kurtani Image copyright Diona Kurtani

A family evacuated from their home in a Camden tower block more than a week ago over fire safety concerns say they have been forced to spend the week apart and constantly moving from one location to another.

Diona Kurtani said her nine-year-old brother has had to stay overnight with school friends on a couple of occasions to try to reduce the amount of travelling he has had to do each day.

Ms Kurtani and her family were among hundreds of people evacuated from more than 700 flats in five tower blocks on the Chalcots estate on 23 June by by Camden Council so urgent fire safety work could be carried out.

The Chalcots estate was refurbished between 2006 and 2009 with cladding similar to that on Grenfell Tower in west London, where a fire is feared to have killed at least 80 people.

After a week of sleeping on sofas by night and spending the days trying to find a new home, Ms Kurtani said the situation was becoming very stressful.

"I've been keeping a brave face on it but I think I'm about to crack," she said.

"The council keep saying they need people to move out but a lot of residents are getting so fed up they have had enough and are coming back to stay in their own flats."

Image copyright Diona Kurtani
Image caption Diona's friend, Robert, has been helping her and other residents liaise with the council

Rather than sleep in the nearby leisure centre, where a lot of evacuated families have been living, they were lucky enough to be invited to stay with friends in the East Finchley area of London.

On Wednesday evening, they moved into a two-bedroom property in Marylebone but had to start searching again after just one night when they found that neither the hot water nor the lighting in the new flat worked.

Since Thursday they have been staying with relatives in central London.

During the day, the 20-year-old has spent a lot of time at Swiss Cottage Library, where the council has set up a hub for displaced families to try to find alternative accommodation.

'Flats not available'

She says the situation is confusing and that more often than not, the properties that residents are told are vacant turn out to be have been already booked or not free that night.

"There are council volunteers at the library who are doing their best and they are able to pay for the accommodation over the phone for you when you find it, but most of the time you find the flats or rooms are not really available," she said.

"My friend Robert has been liaising with the council and passing information on to lots of people. He's been brilliant.

"But really the council should have found the accommodation and evacuated a couple of floors at a time so they had some control over things."

'Only one bag'

Ms Kurtani said on the day they were evacuated they received a letter from the council telling them it was continuing to look at the fire safety risks of the buildings on the estate but that there was no suggestion residents would have to leave.

"I only found out because a friend called me at 8pm to say that everyone is being evacuated," she said.

"My mum was away and I was looking after my little brother because my dad and my older brother were out.

"I only packed one bag and we took my cat and tortoise too.

"Dad came back as quickly as he could and was allowed in to get more stuff."

The family have been able to return to their home in Taplow Tower during the day. Ms Kurtani said: "We've been going home to try to catch up on sleep during the day but we now have bags of belongings at friends' houses all over.

"My pets are still in East Finchley because it just made sense to leave them there."

'Grenfell changes everything'

Camden Council has defended its decision to evacuate residents:

In a letter in the Camden New Journal, council leader Georgia Gould wrote that she had been "prepared to take any action to keep people safe in their homes" but that "the fire services said there was nothing I could do to ensure safety that night.

"I made the very difficult decision to evacuate the blocks. Grenfell changes everything and I was not prepared to take a risk with residents' safety."

Councillor Goulds also praised the residents for their cooperation, saying: "Most of all I want to thank the residents of Chalcots who have responded with grace and resilience to the distress and disruption of the last few days."

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