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Grenfell Tower: Tragedy grips victims six months on

Grenfell Tower: Tragedy grips victims six months on
From Al Jazeera - December 14, 2017

London, England - At Notting Hill Methodist Church, six months after a deadly fire engulfed a 24-storey Grenfell Tower in West London, a young woman addresses the floor.

"I lived on the 23rd floor of Grenfell Tower for 23 years," the woman says. "No one from that floor survived aside from my mother and the Neda family."

According to police, at least 71 people died in the blaze on June 14, but there is scepticism the toll was higher. Victims ranged in ages from a stillborn baby to an 84-year-old woman.

Most residents were from lower-income backgrounds and their flats were subsidised by the council in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea - a wealthy but deeply divided area.

To mark the six-month anniversary on Thursday, a memorial service is being held at St Paul's Cathedral, with thousands of mourners expected to attend.

Each month, there are silent candle-lit vigils held outside the tower. One will take place on Thursday at 6pm. The silence symbolises, protesters say, the government's weak response to the crisis.

The meeting at the church, arranged by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council, aimed to probe the recovery effort delivered to those affected by the fire at the tower - which was built in 1974, including residents and people living in neighbouring buildings on the council-owned Lancaster West Estate, where Grenfell was located.

The woman, who requested anonymity, said that at the time of the tragedy, she explained to National Health Service (NHS) Trust staff that she and her mother were not ready to take up their offer of medical services, requesting instead an appointment in August.

Her request was refused and she was discharged as a patient.

"I said, 'How can you discharge me when we have not yet taken up the offer of your services?'. [The staff member] then proceeded, much to my absolute shock, to leave me a voicemail to tell me that me and my mother had been discharged."

The victim described how she was "being passed from pillar to post" and claimed NHS staff and those from the council "lacked empathy" and caused more stress.

Six months on, the family has met with 11 housing officers but has still not been rehoused.

The woman said she only decided to leave the tower that night because her six-month old son needed milk.

"Each time I see my son, I am thankful because I know if had I stayed ... I would have perished.

"But I feel we are being penalised for being alive ."

Most survivors - more than 100 households - are yet to find permanent homes and are looking at spending the coming festive period in hotel rooms.

Thousands affected

Jim O'Donnell, head of the NHS Grenfell outreach team, told Al Jazeera he was disappointed to hear of the woman's experience.

While services in London have plans in place to deal with traumatic events, he said the scale and the impact of the fire was unique.

There are approximately 11,000 people who may have been affected in and around the Grenfell Tower area, he said.

"So far, 936 people have been screened as requiring urgent post-traumatic stress syndrome treatment and 110 [children] have received specialist care."

But O'Donnell said he does not believe that people are falling through the cracks. "There is a lack of trust and I believe people are reluctant to come forward," he said.

Pointing to a block of sheltered accommodation across from Grenfell Tower, Samia Badani, a resident from the surrounding area, told Al Jazeera that community spirit has been the main source of support.

"They do not know us, they never engaged with us," she said, referring to the authorities. "There is something about this community ... we know how to find people, we have those networks on the ground."

'The most unequal borough in Britain'

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