Elizabeth Campbell was told she should be “so ashamed” of herself over the handling of the Grenfell Tower fire as scores of survivors are still living in hotels eight weeks after the blaze.
The leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which has been repeatedly criticised for its handling of the disaster, was told to come to meetings prepared with answers and not to “fob” residents off.
Campbell joined representatives from the council, Public Health England and the Metropolitan Police Service at the fifth Grenfell Response Team meeting, held at Notting Hill Methodist Church on Wednesday.
Nearly two months have passed since the devastating fire claimed the lives of at least 80 people.
Despite the unseasonably bad weather on Wednesday, residents weren’t deterred by the downpours, with scores of people packing into the church hall for the two-hour meeting.
According to the latest Grenfell Response Team letter, 175 offers of accommodation have been made so far, with 47 offers being accepted and 13 households being rehoused.
The Tory council leader acknowledged that rehousing survivors had been a “slower process than you would have wished for”, but insisted progress was being made.
Campbell, who took over as council leader last month from Nicholas Paget-Brown, was lambasted for failing to rehouse more families.
Judy Bolton, who lost her uncle in the fire and is a local resident, told Campbell:
“Elizabeth, to you, you should be so ashamed of yourself. You have no understanding or respect for these people in this tower and this community.
“Let me explain why: you say it’s a tragedy, it’s a disaster, this is an atrocity and it’s an atrocity that all of these people here today have said ‘we’re not getting help... our children are in one bedroom’ this is two months on.
“You can’t even answer a question about housing. Emma Dent (Coad) did an interview saying that there are 1,000 social houses that they need to release in this borough that is available, so why hasn’t that been done?
“My daughter goes to school and she comes home and says ‘mum, there are empty desks in my classroom’. We’re living with this every day. If you’re coming to this meeting, come prepared, come with a strategy, come with answers. Do not fob us off.”
Bolton, who is a volunteer co-ordinator, said that the people from the tower were scared to say they used to live there because of the abuse they got online.
She echoed comments made earlier in the meeting that residents were suffering from breathing difficulties, adding that local GPs were referring to such health problems as the “Grenfell cough”.
Both the representative from Public Health England and the Care Quality Commission were unaware of the phrase.
Speaking to HuffPost UK after the meeting, Bolton, 48, said she is burying her uncle, who lived on the 20th floor, next week.
She accused the council of showing “disdain” by not listening to residents of Grenfell both before the blaze and since.
She criticised the rhetoric that has been used to describe people living in the tower and neighbouring area.
“These people work hard. Their children went to our schools,” she told HuffPost UK. “They dehumanised us so that the public opinion is ‘why are they moaning, why are they complaining, they have been offered a home’.”
Another woman called the council an “absolute disgrace” after hearing that children are still living in hotel rooms nearly two months after the fire.
A survivor who lived in Grenfell Tower told the panel that the housing situation was “terrible”.
He said that survivors were not going to accept temporary accommodation if it meant they would have to move again a few months down the line.
In June it was announced that some of the displaced residents will be rehoused in luxury Kensington Row flats. Campbell confirmed on Wednesday that, for the rest of their lives, survivors will only have to pay the same rent as they did in Grenfell.
Campbell’s earlier admission that she had never stepped foot inside a tower block was also brought to the forefront of the discussion.
The Tory leader was asked: “Did we elect you?”, as residents raised concerns about the rich/ poor divide in one of London’s wealthiest boroughs.
“This is meant to be the richest borough in the world yet the divide between the rich and the poor has never been so bad.
“Before this fire, I was working, supporting myself, looking after my sick uncle who has mental health problems and physical health problems, as well as working,” the resident from Grenfell Tower said. “But since the fire I haven’t been eating properly, I haven’t been sleeping properly. I have mental health problems now.”
The survivor said that he hasn’t been receiving the support needs.
During the meeting, concerns were also raised about the air quality around the tower.
Residents living in nearby Verity Close pleaded with members of the response panel not to “forget” them and many have reported going to see their GPs about respiratory problems in the aftermath of the fire.
Last week, HuffPost UK spoke to residents living in Bramley House, which sits than 100 metres from the charred remains of the 24-storey tower.
Residents told HuffPost UK that they have been suffering from breathing difficulties, headaches and even minor strokes since the fire engulfed the high-rise building.
Dr Deborah Turbitt from Public Health England attempted to quell residents’ concerns on Wednesday evening, saying that the site surrounding Grenfell has been monitored “every day since the fire”.
Public Health England also said that no asbestos has been found in the air and that cyanide would not longer be present.
The absence of a representative from the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) on the panel did not go unnoticed.
Residents demanded answers from the organisation, which was accused of failing to respond to Freedom of Information requests.
When questioned, the panel said they would invite a representative from the TMO to the next meeting, but no guarantees were made that someone would attend.