Fears for 'vulnerable' tenants forced out of Belfast city tower block
Vulnerable people given just 25 days to vacate a high-rise building in Belfast after a damning fire safety report have said they are fearful about their future.
Part of the Russell Court tower block on the Lisburn Road does not meet the required standard and shocked residents were told on Tuesday that they have to leave.
Hussein Hassan (34) has been consoling a Somalian friend - who suffers from severe anxiety, depression and high blood pressure - since he received the devastating news.
He said the Radius Housing Association tenant, who has a limited grasp of English, has been in "complete shock".
"My friend has lived there for seven years and we are all worried about the impact this is having on him," Mr Hassan said.
"He was crying and confused when he phoned me - he thought he was being chucked out and couldn't understand why."
The Belfast-based security guard said his friend's mental health has been "made worse" as a result of being told he has just four weeks to vacate his home.
"This came as a big shock, because everything was okay on Monday," he said.
"Radius Housing staff have been in contact and met with my friend, but we still don't have clear answers to serious questions - where is he going to go?"
Mr Hassan said it is crucial for the Tower B tenant's mental well-being that he is relocated close to his friends, especially those from within the Somalian community.
"He must be around people who understand him," he said.
"He's a big part of our community and has many friends who regularly visit him and help him."
The distressed tenant, who moved to Northern Ireland almost 10 years ago, spent his first two years here living in a hostel - he now fears he will be forced to return there.
"He has moved on, but now he is worried that he will be back to zero because of this," his friend said.
Radius Housing has promised that temporary accommodation will be made available for residents waiting to be permanently rehoused.
It also said fire marshals will be on-site 24/7 and that compensation will be made available after the initial findings of a survey carried out in April raised serious concerns regarding Block B's capacity to meet modern fire safety requirements.
However, tenants in Block A - which had major refurbishment work in 2011 - have not been affected.
The brother-in-law of a woman who battles alcohol addiction expressed serious concerns about her being separated from her daughter and sister, who both live in Block A.
"We are extremely worried, this could cause a major setback to her recovery," he said.
"She lives in Block B in order to be close to her sister and daughter in Block A - now she is being forced out.
"Who is going to keep an eye on her and be there for her if she ends up living miles away?"
A spokesperson for Radius Housing said that it is working with Housing Executive and Housing Rights staff to engage with all residents on rehousing plans.
"There are a number of people considering provisional offers at this time," they said.
"Where appropriate we are also working with health and social care professionals to ensure the needs of any vulnerable tenants are fully met during the re-accommodation period and when they are rehoused."
But a Housing Executive spokesperson said no offers have yet been made, as not all residents have been properly assessed.
"We have a statutory duty to find suitable accommodation for those affected by the emergency situation in Russell Court and we are currently carrying out this duty," they added.
Addressing previous criticism that residents could have been given more notice about the decision to vacate the building, a spokesperson said safety has always been a primary concern.
They said that senior management have "worked around the clock" to increase the level of fire protection and prepare for the process of vacating the building based on the initial findings of the survey.