Residents at the Retreat Centre given notice to evacuate the premises

by PANORAMA reporter

Residents at the Europa Retreat Centre were given notice on Monday to evacuate the premises at noon the following day or face eviction. Today they face homelessness on the streets of Gibraltar.

Many of the current residents at Europa have, in one way or another, been forced through circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown. One resident, James Rey, was locked out of his home at Prince Edward’s Road by his landlady. “I was running around getting some food and stuff and then I went out, I got home, the door was bolted shut and then at about 4:30 in the morning she phoned the police and the police picked me up”. Mr. Rey is diabetic and requires refrigerated insulin – forced eviction would be tantamount to social murder.

Others like Michael Billintong have been in dire circumstances for months. “I’ve been here in Gib for 24 years, I’ve worked all that time.

Last year I had an anxiety attack and at Christmas I was laid off because they said I wasn’t capable of doing my job properly”. Heart problems requiring sophisticated surgery lead him flying to the UK where he was “stuck” due to Covid-19. When he returned to Gibraltar, his contract had ended leaving him homeless and unemployed. Michael Billingtong also suffers from severe stress and anxiety; he was unable to finish the interview.

Douglas Santos, a pensioner and diabetic, was displeased with the manner in which the eviction was announced. “He comes up yesterday and says - Sergeant-Major-like walking into his boot camp – ‘I’m going to be very brief: tomorrow mid-day you have to be OUT”. The No. 6 civil servant had allergy told Douglas to ‘buy a property’ or ‘move to Spain’.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely shocking”.

Mr. Santos is another economic victim of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I was a taxi driver, I could well afford to pay my rent in Spain, I had a relationship with a Spanish woman, two years ago we broke up… but Covid came. I had to leave my apartment there; I couldn’t afford to pay 550 euros a month without working; I had to hand in my taxi licence because I was a flexible taxi driver, I didn’t have a fixed licence (I worked licence after licence, one week on, one week off…) Well, I ended up having to release the licence.

“Unemployed, with a very minimum, minimum pension (I only get £486 with my pension and community care). Now, I began to work again the taxi, one week on – let’s see if I get another licence – to try and make ends meet to survive”.

Mr. Santos and a colleague of his, Harry Parody, were offered hostel rooms at a charge. They both refused.

“A 70-year-old man with a walking stick, having to live in a communal room. The Devil Tower hostel is more-or-less the same: a little room, smaller than a cell – one single bed, one single wardrobe, no table, no chair, no fridge for my insulin for my diabetes. Nothing. And that’s what I get offered.

“The Government claimed in parliament that they have 11 houses empty for the half-way houses which are now no longer going to be a half-way house. It’s 11 apartments, that they have to give, that they have available to give to single men, like ourselves.

“Well, come on, give me one, what are you waiting for?”

Mr. Santos refuses to move, saying that if the police arrest him that he hopes they imprison him; that way he will have a roof over his head.

Besides, “the place is no longer going to have groups coming. The idea is now that ‘supposedly’ with Covid ‘coming down’ they need to hand the building back to the trust because this building is under contract through the Covid Contingency Committee of No. 6 used for these cases”.

Mr. Santos had taken the initiative with housing and social services.

“I was told in the last meeting we had here with the social services and the Housing Committee that I should be given an urgent, urgent meeting with the social services”. He claims that he knows, through inside sources, that social services have allegedly seen the papers which stated that he was to be given a meeting before the 4th of December with a social worker.

“So, I could be put into the social waiting list. Being put into the social waiting list I would be put at the very top of the social waiting list as homeless. The meeting never came through, I’ve never been contacted before the 4th of August. “The right doesn’t know what the left hand is doing”.