Paula Aleksandros says conditions unbearable at shipping container estate
July 3, 2023
Last Thursday night the often quiet building that houses Ealing Council was a flurry of activity as a woman fed up with her living conditions staged a protest, refusing to leave and ending up spending the entire night there.
Police were called as security guards attempted to cajole, convince and demand the mother-of-two to leave, who told them she was not budging until she spoke to someone in charge.
Paula Aleksandros, 31, was at the end of her tether when she entered Ealing Council offices on Thursday afternoon (June 29) having just been “beaten up by drug dealers”. She wasn’t supposed to be there, with members of the public only allowed to enter the building by virtue of an appointment, however, determination and desperation drove her onwards.
The mother says she did not intend to stay in overnight, however, she was desperate to speak to someone, anyone within the council who could help her and she planned to stay all night if that’s what it took. Paula’s situation had left her with very little to lose, she felt unsafe in her council housing – a ‘flat’ on an estate comprised of shipping containers where she claims you are more likely to see a drug dealer than a police officer.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she had been attacked by gathered groups of people just outside the entrance to her home, who congregate to sell and take drugs at night. When she called the police, the environment only got more hostile.
“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.”
Marston Court where people are housed in converted shipping containers
It had gotten so bad that she had been forced to send her two children, one daughter who is 10 and a son who is 9, away to live with their father. She now faces difficulty in getting them to move back in with her because she says her accommodation is unsafe.
This is what finally drove Paula over the edge. Living in an unsafe and sometimes actively dangerous environment had caused the mum almost crippling anxiety making it hard for her to leave the flat.
Paula says she explained her situation to her caseworker within the council, “She told me ‘I’m sorry I don’t know how long [before] the housing [department] will get back to you’ but the problem now is with me losing my kids, so I was like ‘are you going to help me?’ and she said ‘Paula, I can’t, I don’t know what to do, I can’t help you more than that.’ In the end, she just doesn’t have that power. I hung up and I got so angry and I came straight to the council and the security guy was talking to someone so I just walked straight in.”
Paula staged her protest in the hopes that she and her kids could get a safe place to stay, away from the violence and danger at Marston Court, the shipping container estate. The LDRS caught up with her some 18 hours after she had first entered the council offices.
Sipping a coffee in the nearby Caffe Nero, the resident was running on about half an hour’s sleep having slept on two chairs pushed together. She had finally been removed from the lobby of the council’s offices on Friday morning when security guards picked up the chair she had been sitting on and carried it outside.
“All the security came up to me, 5 or 6 people, and started to try and get me out but I said I wouldn’t speak to them because they can’t help me.” She had spent the night messaging members of the council including Cllr Bassam Mahfouz, Ealing Council’s cabinet member for Safe and Genuinely Affordable Homes, trying to progress her case.
When she spoke to the LDRS she said she was still waiting to hear if she would get a meeting with anyone in the housing department. She had some choice words for how she has found the council over the past year of living in a shipping container. “Unhelpful, careless, I need stronger words than that. The worst. The worst experience of my life, they actually made my life so much worse, they messed around with my health – mental and physical. Everything. Since I deal with them my health and everything just went down the drain.”
Since moving into Marston Court, Paula says she has had more and more of herself stripped away and refuses to lose her children as well. “I’ve had enough. What more can I take? Enough is enough. I know that they don’t care, I can see that. I keep thinking one more email, one more conversation maybe there will be progress, you have that hope. But in the end, you see that they do not care.
“All you hear is ‘I’m sorry to hear this, I’m sorry about this,’ but it’s just sweet talk, they don’t do anything.”
The council has even decided itself that Marston Court is unsuitable as temporary accommodation and plans to decommission it.
The converted shipping containers were set up to provide fast and cheaply constructed homes for homeless people, was designed to house individuals or families for a maximum of 6 months. After living there for a year, Paula says, “Burn it to the ground, make it disappear completely. It shouldn’t even be. They [the residents] shouldn’t even be there in the first place. What kind of place is that? In the summer it gets so hot you can’t breathe, you can’t sleep. They [the council] throw people in there, family, kids, drug dealers. They don’t care.”
Paula said that she has been offered other accommodation but nothing else was suitable, explaining that because she had a pet at the time, she was incompatible with the housing’s 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.”
Rory Bennett- Local Democracy Reporter