We go back to Marlin Apartments in Stratford, where homeless families live 4 and 5 to a single room – around which they are pursued by militias of rats, mice, bedbugs, cockroaches, tiny flies and other pests that I didn’t care to view closely at the time. There are pictures and stories here if you can stand it.
Being eaten by bedbugs was plenty to be getting on with, but now, there is more. It turns out that the above vermin aren’t the only ones in pursuit of Marlin residents. Energy and water companies are after them, too – for money that the residents neither owe, nor can pay. No surprises there, of course. You don’t get much time off from your life as prey when you are poor. Your whole day is lousy with bloodsuckers, muggers and vultures who can’t wait to chew you out. You get down to bone, but your tormentors will still charge in to gnaw it.
Which is not to say that they don’t form a type of queue. In any list of voracious wankers, water and energy companies invariably make their way to the top. In a stampede for your twitching carcass, they will bullock past the rest in the race for your soft parts. Which they’ll get.
So it is at Marlin Apartments. Recently, while thumbing through mail that the rats had yet to fully consume, residents found water and energy demands for several hundred pounds. In some cases, these demands were for more than £500:
At the same time, Marlin residents received letters from Newham council which said that they had to set up their own accounts with energy companies, and pay the usual exorbitant power bills directly to those companies.
As I understand it (I don’t entirely), up until September, bills were included in residents’ rent – one bill for the lot, residents say. I suppose that makes sense given that Marlin Apartments were once serviced apartments for city-visitor management types, who probably paid an all-inclusive bill for a stay.
Now that the apartments are used as temporary accommodation for homeless people, things have changed – to bring Marlin residents in line with “arrangements that are made with all residents of temporary accommodation,” according to the above letter from the council. I say, “as I understand it,” because the council has not responded to my requests for clarification on the new and old charging “systems.” Also, the text in the council’s letter is about as clear as catflop. I tried hard, but there are sentences that are taking a while to stick:
“As a result of the rising energy costs, it has been agreed with Marlin apartments that the cost of water heating via the gas supply to the building will be made by them directly to you.”
I think that means, “as energy costs go up, homeless tenants will be hit for the lot.”
So, that’s great for residents. As we all found out last year – and a long time before in many cases – knowing that your heating bills will increase in winter, and as dangerous damp and mould set in, is not especially hilarious.
National and local government like to argue that billing homeless people like the rest of us (ie, violently) is character-building and the path out of dependence. This argument tends to circumnavigate the fact that problems with meeting bills are generally less about a lack of character than about a lack of money, but we must grow where we can, I guess.
I suppose that there is a bit of bright side, in that worrying about impossible energy bills could be a refreshing change from worrying about being eaten alive by bedbugs. Then again, maybe being slowly gassed by anti-bedbug pesticides is a better way to go. As I say, you look for positives where you can. Every aspect of council homelessness provision is so terminally stuffed that I now tend to rate problems by degree and length of torture. When looking for answers to problems, you really do find yourself asking questions like – is sitting in a damp room and choking on mould particles over several winters better or worse for body and soul than being munched on by bedbugs and mice? What should you deal with first?
People living in temp housing get both, of course, Such are the times. If you are homeless in 2023, housing success is not about finding somewhere comfortable, or safe, or clean, or even habitable. It’s about finding a place that you and your kids might survive.
Anyway. I imagine that some people who read this won’t give a toss, logic being that we’re all stuck paying huge water and energy bills, so why should homeless people miss out. Also, heaps of people get random batshit demands for hundreds of extra pounds from energy and water companies, so, I can see some people thinking – welcome to the club. I got a random demand for £2,000 from Southern Electric once. Amusingly, they ended up paying me £600 after I started blogging about it.
My point, though: when the squeeze is put on homeless people, you see again that there are no limits. End-stage capitalism hunts for money where there is none. It would be kinder, and certainly prettier, to throw homeless people to actual sharks.