Asma Kazmi flinched on a recent evening here as she walked out of the community center meeting and came face to face with the charred remains of the Grenfell tower. The reality stung: She was homeless.
Turning her back to the building, she described her final moments in her apartment on June 14, when she was mixing batter and rolling pastries with her three children as they prepared for the pre-dawn Ramadan meal.
Then her neighbor’s fridge exploded, sparking the ferocious blaze that ripped through the 24-story building, filling the corridors and apartments with thick black smoke and trapping dozens of people inside.
“The kitchen was the heart of our household, and that’s what I miss the most,” Ms. Kazmi, 38, said as she walked away from the devastated building. “Now, I don’t even own a spoon. We lost everything, every single thing that we built.”
Since the fire, Ms. Kazmi, her husband and children have been living in a double room at a four-star hotel on a busy street in northwest London. The room is made up of two double beds, a single bed, a desk, television, mini-fridge, kettle and a large bathroom. In the corner of the room was a large pile of donations, including clothes, pots, pans and toiletries.
“What do I do with all this stuff? ” Ms. Kazmi asked on a recent evening. “I don’t have a kitchen, I can’t cook. Every day we eat junk outside,” she said. “I don’t want my children to get used to this. I don’t want to dress my children in other people’s clothes. I don’t want to do my washing in the sink. I just want my home and dignity back.”
On Thursday members of the council took survivor families on a tour of the latest properties they had acquired in the North Kensington area. The apartments were bright and spacious, with high ceilings and a modern finish. But one of the greatest challenges, according to one councilor, is finding enough good quality properties in proximity to one another.
“We are dealing with a very closely knit community, and they do not want to be split up, especially now in the aftermath of this trauma,” the councilor said. “They want to be close to their schools, friends, community centers — and that’s tough when there are so many people.”
This explanation rubs some former Grenfell residents the wrong way. At a recent council meeting, one shouted at the councilors, saying there were plenty of properties close together listed at local real estate agents. “Just cough up the money and do it privately,” he said.
The council says it is doing all that and more, searching for properties with local agents as well as developers, landlords and housing associations.
Back in her hotel room, Ms. Kazmi had put her children to bed. She asked me to whisper so I didn’t wake them, and joked that we could go and speak in the bathroom, the only other room in her new “house.”
“For the first month they cried every night and couldn’t sleep,” she explained. “They are children, they don’t understand what is going on. All they want to do is go home.”
Ms. Kazmi’s husband, Ceramah, said his eldest daughter, 10, had started to come to terms with what had happened, but his sons, 8 and 5, ask every day when they are going to go home.
“Yesterday, for the first time, I told them the truth. I said, ‘We’re not. We will find a new home.’ I think only Alihan, my older son, understood. He hasn’t spoken to me since.”
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