Published: Monday July 30, 2012
EXCLUSIVE by PAVAN AMARA
THREE men are on hunger strike in a tent pitched outside the Town Hall today (Monday) after claiming benefit cuts have left them homeless and without the healthcare they need.
Ali Shokrolahi, 31, Hamid Rahmdel, 28m and Abdul Rahim Dehbozourgi, 33, all lived in flats in Broadhurst Gardens before their housing benefit was cut from £245 weekly to £88, leaving them unable to pay the rent..
Mr Shokrolahi and Mr Rahmdel were renting from a private landlord, and Mr Dehbozourgi was already homeless but used their flat to use the shower and sometimes eat.
All say they fled Shiraz in Iran after being tortured as political prisoners.
Mr Shokrolahi said he was diagnosed with sclerosis of the liver in March last year at the Royal Free Hospital and has since had regular hospital appointments and was placed on the liver transplant waiting list.
He said that since being made homeless on 27th June he has been suspended from the waiting list.
“The doctor said to me last month that I would have nowhere to recover after the transplant so there was no point in me having one,” said Mr Shokrolahi, who gained residential status in the UK in 2008.
He said he had been offered a place in a hostel and then told there was no more space for him, a point disputed by the council who say space was allocated at a hostel in Endell Street, Holborn.
“They said it didn't matter if I was on the street or in a hostel, because I wouldn't have the conditions to recover at home," Mr Shokrolahi. " I am on a special diet but I have no kitchen. The medicines I am on make me need to use the toilet a lot, but when I am in a hostel it's difficult for me to go in the middle of the night because other people give me a lot of abuse."
Mr Shokrolahi brought with him a bag of medicines he had been prescribed, but said he was no longer taking them “as I am begging for my life to the council, just give me a place to live, so I can recover after the operation, and they don't care.”
He claimed he had an operation to remove blood clots from around his bowel in April 2011, and was still suffering from ill health.
“After I was made homeless I came straight to the council but they kept passing me between people. No one would take responsibility, and then I blacked out, I spent about five days in the Roya; Free and when they released me they sent me to a hostel where I was sharing a room with people asking me if I wanted drugs. I want to get a job, but I will soon have my jobseekers allowance cut off if I can't find anywhere to live.”
Mr Rahmdel, a neighbour of Mr Shokrolahi, said he had a similar blow to his housing benefit, and was also made homeless in late June.
He had been completed a course in engineering at the College of North West London, and was in the process of applying to university, when he was left without a home.
Mr Rahmdel arrived in the country in 2009 and now has refugee status.
He said: “I was saved by the NHS. I was sent to psychologists because I had been tortured in Iran, and I was doing a course, I learnt English and wanted a life. I want to work as an engineer, but my mental health is going back downwards. They will cut of my jobseekers allowance, and I won't even be able to go to university if I have no address to apply from."
Mr Rahmdel added:"I want to commit suicide I am so depressed. But I will not take my life because I don't want Camden Council saying these men killed themselves. No, you are killing us. If I jumped off a bridge they would say 'He had mental health problems', this way the world and all the tourists in London this month will know Camden Council made me homeless just when I was about to turn my life around.”
Mr Rahmdel says his current housing benefit of £88 a week is not sufficient money to rent a room in London, and landlords are reluctant to house a DSS tenant.
He added: “I will go on hunger strike for as long as possible. Tonight I am sewing my lips together because I don't want to talk to the council. I will stay on hunger strike even if I die.”
Mr Dehbozourgi who has had his asylum application refused by a court, appealled last month, and says because he is homeless he is not receiving correspondance.
Councillor Julian Fulbrook, cabinet member for housing, said: "This case highlights the real impact of government cuts to welfare benefits and I have every sympathy for the plight of the gentlemen concerned. Cuts to levels of housing benefit are the responsibility of central government with the Council acting as the paying agent to individuals.
"When Mr Shokrolahi presented himself as homeless to the Council in July, we allocated temporary space for him at Endell Street in Holborn while we assessed his needs, particularly in relation to his health problems. Our housing options team have been trying to work with him but he has refused to engage with us. Despite this, we have arranged an interview with Mr Shokrolahi today for accommodation with the necessary bathroom provision required. Mr Shokrolahi's transplant co-ordinator has indicated that this accommodation would be suitable to enable him to go back onto the transplant list.
"We are currently working with Hamid Rahmdel and his case-worker and we hope to place him in a hostel very shortly.
“Camden has a history of supporting people with complex needs and in this case we will work with the individuals concerned to find them the accommodation they need."
A spokeswoman for the Royal Free Hospital said she could not comment on individual circumstances, but added: “When considering a patient's suitability for a liver transplant we take into account many factors and circumstances. One factor is housing as we need to ensure that there is a safe and suitable environment for recovery after the transplant operation. A patient without suitable housing may be temporarily suspended from the waiting list.".