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Action for Housing highlights urgent need for emergency housing as homeless are evicted

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, the last temporary tenants of the Europa Retreat Centre were evicted by the Gibraltar Government, in a move which saw pressure group Action for Housing call for urgent accommodation for the homeless.

A group of homeless men had sought refuge at the Retreat Centre, situated in Windmill HIll, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But this was a temporary arrangement and now, as the lockdown has slowly eased, they have been asked to leave the Retreat Centre and offered alternative accommodation by the Government.

But while some have taken up the offer, others say they are unable to afford any of the options available.

Henry Pinna from Action for Housing told the Chronicle of the eight who have been evicted, the whereabouts of two individuals are unknown.

Two individuals have been offered accommodation at the Workers Hostel in Devil’s Tower Road, two others had made their own arrangements, another two are staying in the Emile Hostel and there have been conflicting stories on where the last two individuals are staying, Mr Pinna said.

Of the two given subsidised accommodation in the Emile Hostel, one is eligible for Government housing as they are local, but the other is not from Gibraltar and therefore cannot apply for public housing.

Mr Pinna is concerned for these individuals, in particular once the two-week subsidy comes to an end.

“It has been a difficult issue from the very beginning,” Mr Pinna said.

“The Government found itself with these people that it had to give accommodation to during the lockdown.

“We only got involved five days ago when one of them rung me up and said they were going to be thrown out.”

Mr Pinna described how the Government had previously promised 11 flats for those in urgent need of housing, but this has not been forthcoming yet.

Last week the Government said the flats were still being refurbished, while both Action for Housing and the GSD said it was vital that the government speeded up the work and provided clarity on the criteria to apply for those properties.

“We would urge the Government to make these available urgently,” Mr Pinna said.

“This problem might have been resolved much sooner had they had available flats for these homeless.”

“We badly need housing for urgent cases, only on a temporary basis, until these people are sorted out, either they find their own accommodation, or they go through social services.”

Mr Pinna said there is a need locally for temporary accommodation, but also highlighted the fact that the Government’s Covid-19 contingency plans had enabled these homeless people to be fed and housed since March.

In one of the cases an individual, who has been evicted, faces homelessness despite working a part time job in an essential sector.

Mr Pinna stressed that although this person is working, as they are not eligible for Government housing there are few viable options for affordable private housing in Gibraltar.

He thanked the Government and private businesses which had helped the homeless during this difficult time.

“All in all, I think things have been done correctly, the only thing is we need housing for temporary allocation when these things happen,” Mr Pinna said.

Mr Pinna added that a crisis brings the worst and the best to the fore, and Covid-19 had given an opportunity for those who had previously fallen through the cracks to “rise to the surface”.