One woman protest at Ealing Council over poor living conditions

Image above: Paula Aleksandros

Woman camps out in Ealing Council offices overnight

Paula Aleksandros staged a protest at Ealing Council offices last Thursday night (27 June), refusing to leave and spending the entire night there. Frustrated with her living conditions, Paula demanded to speak to someone in charge and remained determined, despite the presence of police and security guards.

Paula, a 31-year-old mother of two, went to the Council’s offices on Thursday afternoon after allegedly being assaulted by drug dealers. Although she was not supposed to be there without an appointment, she was desperate to speak to anyone in the council who could help her, willing to spend the entire night if necessary.

According to Paula, her council housing, located on an estate made of shipping containers, had become an unsafe environment where drug dealers seemed more prevalent than police officers.

In an interview with the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Paula said she had been attacked by groups of people outside her home who gathered to sell and take drugs. Despite reporting the issue to the police, the situation worsened, with the dealers remaining and even bringing in young girls to join them. Paula said:

“The police came and I asked them to look for drugs and they told me ‘there is nothing’ and eventually they did find something but the dealer is still going in and out and he’s still bringing in young girls 14, 16, 17 smoking weed, swearing, threatening me.

“I had a solicitor and they were asking for proof so eventually I had to take pictures of people smoking weed in my face and that’s how I ended up getting beaten up.”

Image above: Marston Court

Paula sent her children to live with their father

Feeling unsafe, Paula sent her ten-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son to live with their father. She said reuniting with her children has been difficult due to where she lives.

Living in an unsafe and sometimes actively dangerous environment took a toll on Paula’s mental health, causing severe anxiety that made it difficult for her to leave her flat. She explained her situation to her caseworker within the council, only to receive a response indicating uncertainty about when the housing department would respond. Feeling abandoned, Paula decided to take matters into her own hands and headed straight to the council offices, bypassing security.

Paula’s protest aimed to secure a safe place for herself and her children, away from the violence and danger at Marston Court, the shipping container estate. After spending about 18 hours in the council offices, she was eventually removed from the lobby on Friday morning when security guards carried the chair she had been sitting on outside. Throughout the night, Paula had been messaging members of the council, including Cllr Bassam Mahfouz, Ealing Council’s cabinet member for Safe and Genuinely Affordable Homes, in an attempt to make progress in her case.

While speaking to the LDRS, Paula expressed her frustration with the council, describing her experience as “unhelpful” and “careless.” She believes they have worsened her life, impacting both her mental and physical health. She says that their promises and sympathetic words were empty gestures, lacking any meaningful action.

The council itself has recognised the unsuitability of Marston Court as temporary accommodation and has plans to decommission it. Originally intended to provide fast and cost-effective housing for homeless individuals or families for a maximum of six months, the converted shipping containers have failed to meet the needs of residents like Paula.

Her year-long stay in such conditions has left her calling for the complete elimination of the facility, emphasising the extreme temperatures during the summer and the presence of drug dealers.

Image above: Ealing Council offices

“The council is reviewing this case”

Despite being offered alternative accommodation, Paula deemed these unsuitable because at the time she had a pet, which clashed with house rules.

An Ealing Council spokesperson said:

“It should be absolutely clear that the council is committed to decommissioning Marston Court and re-providing higher quality temporary accommodation.

“However, this cannot happen immediately as we are facing an increase in the number of households who are in urgent need of support with their housing – including the family referenced.

“We cannot justify closing Marston Court immediately, despite our concerns about its quality, without options lined up for those people living there.

“We know that this tenant and her family are in a very difficult situation. Earlier this year, the family were offered a good quality 3-bedroom private rented property but refused the offer as unsuitable.

“This tenant has also refused offers of alternative emergency accommodation. The council is reviewing this case, and we continue to seek ways that we can support her during this difficult time.”

Ealing Council has recently been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for providing unsuitable temperary accommodation for a young family. The family was left in a 10th floor flat with faulty windows for nearly 18 months.

Ombudsman Nigel Ellis said there were 31 other households on its transfer list for temporary accommodation and he had asked Ealing Council to “consider remedying any complaints of injustice to those other households too.”