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Govt and GSD at loggerheads over emergency housing

Photo: REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The Gibraltar Government and the GSD clashed on Friday over the provision of emergency housing for homeless men. 

The exchange comes after the homeless occupants of the Retreat Centre, who were housed there temporarily amidst the Covid-19 lockdown, were told they must vacate the premises by Sunday. 

In order to support those persons, the Government said it had offered the affected individuals alternative accommodation at either the Emile Hostel for £20 a day or at the Sunrise Motel for £9.50 a week.

But the GSD said the issue went beyond the cases in the Retreat Centre and called for clarity on the provision of emergency housing. 

This, the GSD said, was brought into sharp focus in a recent meeting of Parliament when the Opposition questioned the Government about its previous policy to provide a half way house for homeless men. 

The Government said it had abandoned that policy and that 11 flats had been instead been earmarked for that purpose, managed by Women in Need. 

“The clear impression was also that those flats were already available and that some had already been occupied by homeless men,” the GSD said. 

But the Government said in a statement on Friday that the flats were being refurbished and undergoing construction works and some, for example, were still without bathrooms.[Text Wrapping Break]
It added that since March those at the Retreat Centre had been given temporary accommodation free of charge, with free food, free security, free room cleaning and free laundry changes. They had also had the use of a day room with television.

The Government underscored that this was always a temporary arrangement and that the occupiers had originally signed up to vacating the premises when asked to do so by the Office of Civil Contingency.

“The people of Gibraltar have assisted these persons in their hour of need and borne their costs over many months,” No.6 Convent Place said.

“While this was perfectly reasonable in the exceptional circumstances posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone will understand that this situation of having everything for free cannot simply continue indefinitely.”

The Government said: “It would also be just as wrong for these individuals to jump the queue to the top of the Housing waiting list, when some are not even entitled to Government housing.”

The Government added that the Retreat Centre occupants have had a whole month to find alternative accommodation and some have now done so.

Throughout this process, the different needs of other Retreat Centre occupants had also been met, No.6 added. 

One individual who met the housing criteria for allocation and who was at the top of the housing waiting list has been accommodated in line with his entitlement.

The Retreat Centre was handed over to the Office of Civil Contingencies as a result of Covid-19.

And the Government explained that it has always been earmarked as an isolation facility and is currently being used as an isolation facility for confirmed/suspected cases of Covid-19.

“It is very easy for the Opposition to criticise from the sidelines – if the GSD believe that these persons should continue to be subsidised by the taxpayer or that they should jump the housing queue, then they should have the courage to say it,” No.6 said.

The GSD said no one was suggesting that homeless men jump the queue.

It argued that it was precisely because the Government needed to be fair to both homeless men and those on the waiting list, that there needed to be transparency in the eligibility criteria and the process to determine whether someone is homeless or the circumstances in which they became homeless. [Text Wrapping Break]
“There is more at stake than just the cases in the Retreat Centre,” the GSD said.

“The scheme needs to be fair to all and the Opposition will continue to assess whether abandoning the policy of providing a half way house for men was the right decision.” 

Finally, the GSD said, not everyone at the Retreat Centre had been provided with a temporary alternative at the Devils Tower hostel or the  women’s refuge, and it was therefore not right to suggest otherwise.