Family made homeless after house fire stuck in hotel for seven months

The Rembikowski family are among hundreds currently being forced to live in hotels by Enfield Council as it struggles to find suitable temporary accommodation, reports James Cracknell

At their room in Enfield Travelodge (from left) are son Alan, dog Apollo, mum Magda and dad Piotr
At their room in Enfield Travelodge (from left) are son Alan, dog Apollo, mum Magda and dad Piotr

Two homeless families from Enfield have spoken of their despair at living for months in hotels – including a family-of-four whose house burned down last summer.

Disabled dad Piotr Rembikowski and his family have been living at Enfield Travelodge on the A10 for seven months after the fire at their house in Palmers Green last August, with even their pet German shepherd forced to live with them in the hotel.

They are one of around 200 local families currently living in hotels as Enfield Council struggles to fulfil its statutory duty to house people declaring homelessness – following a sudden drop in the availability of affordable private rented accommodation.

“I have no hope left,” Piotr told the Dispatch this week. “We have had no help from the council – we are stuck here.”

It was revealed last week that the amount of money the council is spending on commercial hotels for homeless families – dubbed ‘bed and breakfast’ (B&B) accommodation – has risen more than ten-fold in under a year and recently surpassed £500,000 per month.

Rising rates of evictions and a severe lack of cheap homes to rent has been said to have created a “perfect storm” in the borough, with Edmonton MP Kate Osamor also describing it as an “emerging humanitarian crisis”.

The temporary accommodation crisis is further compounded by the need to rehouse residents from three Edmonton tower blocks that have recently had their gas supplies switched off by the council after they were deemed unsafe.

Piotr is living at Enfield Travelodge with his wife Magda and two sons Alan, aged 15, and Natan, aged 20, who is studying at university. They are occupying two rooms at the hotel and are even joined by their dog Apollo.

The Rembikowski family’s Palmers Green home burned down on 14th August 2022 after being set alight by a fire that spread from a nearby construction site. It forced the family to declare themselves homeless as their landlord had nowhere else to move them to.

Piotr was treated for smoke inhalation from the blaze and had only recently been left without the use of his legs after an accident on a bus in April last year – an injury that forced him to give up his career in carpentry. His rehabilitation from the accident has also been disrupted because his physiotherapist cannot treat him in the hotel.

Magda works as a housekeeper but her salary is not enough to support the whole family, while Piotr’s monthly disability benefit amounts to less than £250 at present. Alan is an aspiring footballer currently training with Chelsea Foundation and Natan is a student at The University of West London.

“My wife is working like crazy but then they stopped our [housing] benefit because they said she earned too much,” Piotr said.

“The council tried to move us to the eleventh floor of a block of flats in Ponders End – what would I do if the lift broke or there was a fire? How can I get out? We had to refuse it.”

The only other accommodation the family have been offered away from the hotel was a flat in Manchester, which would disrupt Alan and Natan’s education.

The Rembikowski family’s seven-month hotel stay greatly exceeds the six-week legal limit for local authorities forced to place families in B&B accommodation while a property can be found for them, but they are among many who have endured agonising waits to be rehoused.

A significant number of them are holed up at Enfield Travelodge, which the Dispatch visited again this week after previously meeting the Ramazani family there in March. The hotel has dozens of rooms being occupied by homeless families and Piotr said children often resort to playing in the hotel’s car park – beside a dual carriageway – because there is nothing else for them to do.

Enfield Travelodge is beside the A10
Enfield Travelodge is beside the busy A10

Away from the Travelodge, a single mum who is 28 weeks pregnant has been put up in an East London hotel with her six-year-old child. In January the pair fled a domestic abuser in Edmonton and declared themselves homeless as a result.

The mother told the Dispatch: “I was in a domestic violence relationship for five years – my partner put a knife to my throat. I have got depression and anxiety and I get panic attacks.

“There are no cooking facilities and no washing facilities for my clothes here. My son has put on 10kg in weight – I can’t keep giving him takeaways.

“I have gone without food myself because I want him to have food and Uber Eats is really expensive.”

She added: “We are being treated like animals – I have had enough.”

Both families spoken to by the Dispatch this week said their council caseworkers had done little to assist them and had treated them dismissively.

Labour MP Kate Osamor said: “Across Enfield and London we are seeing an emerging humanitarian crisis, which is being ignored by Tory politicians in Westminster.

“In the last few months there has been an explosion in the number of my constituents being made homeless and spending months crammed into hotel rooms. That’s unacceptable and avoidable.

“Both local and national government need to wake up and treat this like the emergency it is.”

Kate also raised the issue in the House of Commons last week and asked a minister from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities whether the government would raise the Local Housing Allowance – which determines local housing benefit levels – to match the rate of inflation.

Conservative minister Felicity Buchan responded: “There are currently 1,200 families in B&B accommodation over six weeks – we think that is inappropriate and we have made clear to local authorities that B&Bs are a last resort and they are an interim measure to more stable accommodation.”

An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “It is incredibly difficult for any individual and families living in emergency hotel accommodation, as the council works hard to find long-term homes. The reality, however, is that the whole of London is experiencing a housing crisis and across London over the past year, homeless families approaching local councils for help has increased by 17.5%.

“To make matters worse, Enfield Council is competing with 21 other London boroughs and the Home Office, who all look for homes in Enfield. The council uses 2,000 homes in the private rented sector locally to house people, but at least 6,000 homes in the borough are used by other councils and government departments.

“In February this year alone, 464 homeless families approached the council for help, compared to 196 in October 2021.

“Enfield Council is committed to reducing the numbers of families it places in hotels, including a new rapid rehousing hub, and is exploring all avenues including being forced to look at placing homeless people further from home where the market is more affordable. But the housing challenge in the borough requires national action to address the fundamental shortfall of affordable housing.

“The government’s decision to not increase Local Housing Allowance has consigned people to poorer and poorer standards of accommodation.”