Around 30 friends and supporters of a woman who has been living in a hotel room for two months banged on the locked doors of City Hall today to demand her situation is sorted out. Selma Muuse and her young autistic son Ahmed have been trying to find alternative accommodation after escaping a fatal fire at their council tower block, which left them too traumatised to return.
Members of the community union Acorn from the Somali community in Easton and Barton Hill joined their fellow members from across Bristol to try to present a list of demands to the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, asking for action over their plight. The mother and child have been moved around between five different hotels but the council refused to continue paying the bill a week ago, as a dispute began about what should happen to them.
Bristol City Council offered her new accommodation but the only suitable home will not be ready until mid-December, and Selma says she was told they must return to their old flat at Twinnell House in the meantime. Earlier this week she spoke of how she had declined to leave the hotel room as she was too worried to go back, but the water and electricity serving their room was turned off.
Selma and her doctors say she and Ahmed are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being traumatised by the fire, which claimed the life of her neighbour on the top floor, Abdul Jabar Oryakhel. She recalled hearing screaming before he died, and escaping through the flames on the top floor of the Easton tower block at the end of September.
They have consistently said Selma and Ahmed should not be made to go back to Twinnell House, which was repaired and restored a month ago following the fire. Bristol City Council initially told Selma, who works as a pharmacist, that she would have to return to the flat, and then even after accepting the medical evidence and finding her an alternative place to live in Barton Hill, warned she would have to return there temporarily while the new home was made ready.
Last Friday, in a bid to get Selma and her son out of hotel accommodation, Bristol City Council stopped paying the bill, and the following day Travelodge even turned off the water and electricity for more than an hour in the room where they were staying – something for which Travelodge later apologised.
A week on, and Selma and her son still do not know where they will be housed by council housing chiefs, and her friends arrived at City Hall to demand action – and an inquiry to find out why she has been treated so badly. “Their treatment has been beyond appalling, including Travelodge trying to force them out by shutting off utilities and stationing security outside their room to prevent them returning should they leave,” said a spokesperson for Acorn Bristol.
“The doors of City Hall were locked against us when they saw us coming this afternoon. To chants of ‘Justice for Selma’ and ‘Shame on you’ we papered the doors of City Hall with posters and read out our demands of Marvin Rees and Director for Housing Donald Graham – that Selma and her son be appropriately housed and that their shameful treatment be immediately investigated,” they added.
“But then as we were debriefing around the corner, the mayor was spotted. A couple of us managed to catch him on his way back from lunch and handed him our letter of demands. We will keep fighting until both of our demands are met and Selma and her son are safe.”
Outside City Hall, the campaigners stuck posters to the doors of the main entrance to the council headquarters, which had been closed and locked as the group approached. They banged on the door, chanted, and then one Acorn member, Shabhan, read the letter they later presented to Marvin Rees.
“Selma and Ahmed narrowly escaped with their lives from the fire at Twinnell House. They lived in the flat next to Abdul Jabar and heard his cries for help as he died,” he said. “Since the fire they have been moved around from hotel to hotel, and in that time they have been denied electricity and water and been denied from receiving food from visitors by security guards stationed at the door of their room.
“As a result, this incredibly turbulent and disruptive time to her and her son, Selma has been diagnosed with PTSD. They cannot go back to Twinnell House.”
Shabhan said their treatment had been “inhumane” and has “outraged the city”, adding: “As a result of pressure from Acorn members, we have won a verbal promise of temporary accommodation for Selma and Ahmed. We demand that the council provides written guarantees and appropriate temporary accommodation for Selma and Ahmed, and the council carries out a public investigation into how the treatment of Selma and Ahmed has been allowed to happen,” he added.
Bristol City Council has declined to comment on individual housing cases.