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Homeless in Cornwall back on the streets to ‘make room for G7 summit’

Stuart Lee, 44, is back on the streets after leaving the Premier Inn in Helston, Cornwall, to make way for summer tourists and the G7 Summit, he says.
Stuart Lee, leaves Premier Inn Helston, Cornwall to make room for G7 guests © Exposure Photo Agency/Big Issue

A rough sleeper who was given accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed he was kicked out of his hotel to “make room for the G7 summit”.

Stuart Lee, 44, told The Big Issue he had been staying in the Premier Inn hotel in Helston, Cornwall, for five months through the Everyone In scheme before he was asked to leave on Friday May 28.

Stuart insisted the booking was reviewed every fortnight at the hotel where he was staying with two other rough sleepers. He said it was not renewed, however, as Carbis Bay, a 30-minute drive from Helston, prepares to host world leaders for the G7 summit from June 11. That has left Stuart sleeping rough once again.

He said: “I was told by hotel staff that I would have to leave because they need the room for the G7 summit. We went to the front desk and asked if the booking had been renewed and we were told it had already been booked up.

“The council has been booking us in every two weeks but there is no space for us. I’m gutted. I’m back on the street again. I’ve been ringing around accommodation places and estate agents and there is nowhere for me to rent at the moment.”

Around 130 people living in emergency hotel accommodation in Cornwall are reported to have been moved out. Conservative councillor Olly Monk, the council’s cabinet member for housing, told the BBC hotels which had housed people now “want to get back to normality” for a busy summer season.

“I guess they have decided they can make more money by going back to their normal business model,” he said.

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Premier Inn denied it had an agreement with Cornwall council to house people experiencing homelessness.

A spokesperson for Whitbread PLC, which owns the hotel chain, told The Big Issue the company “had no discussion with the council in Cornwall about this specific issue and any claims about rooms not being ‘renewed’ are totally wrong”.

“We’re not aware of this having happened in Cornwall but there could well have been a small number of guests placed directly by the council,” they added.

“The G7 and the encroaching holiday season has flagged up a real weakness in homelessness and housing provision in Cornwall,” said Jane Kirkham, Labour councillor from Falmouth Penwerris.

“Trying to rehouse 130 people at short notice in Cornwall in the summer with the place full due to the G7 is incredibly difficult and expensive. The worry is that some people will slip through the net and end up back on the streets. All the good work done engaging with the support services will be lost and they will go backwards.”

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Stuart Lee, leaves Premier Inn Helston, Cornwall to make room for G7 guests © Exposure Photo Agency | Big Issue

Former builder Stuart had been rough sleeping in nearby Falmouth for five months before his Premier Inn stay.

He told The Big Issue he had been evicted from his secure accommodation after breaking rules over visitors following his father’s death.

Stuart also struggled to find work in the construction trade as he is unable to drive due to a medical condition and that led to a spell of rough sleeping as the pandemic hit. 

He later accepted the Cornwall Council’s offer of accommodation to protect him from Covid-19 during the latest national lockdown and has worked with the council to find a long-term home but has been unable to find a property in the local area.

But now – as Boris Johnson prepares to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, US President Joe Biden and other world leaders from the G7 in Cornwall – Stuart is homeless once again.

“Last year was the first time in my life that I have been on the streets,” Stuart added.

“Now I want another option for a place to stay or to be told that we can go back when the G7 summit is over. Otherwise I’m just back on the street. I just want stability.

“I just feel let down. I worked for many years and paid my taxes and now I need help.

“I’m a recovering drug addict as well so need to be around the area to get my medication. I was getting support for it while I was staying in the hotel and I feel like I’m back to square one now.”

Cornwall Council said it was “working hard” to find emergency accommodation for everyone who needs it but admitted the pandemic has led to “exceptional pressures” on demand for places to stay.

A council spokesperson told The Big Issue the number of households in temporary accommodation more than doubled in 2020 and pinned the blame for the current situation on the resurgent holiday market and not the G7 summit.

“While hotels in Cornwall have honoured the bookings made, the temporary (and uncertain) nature of emergency accommodation means we are unable to secure long-term bookings,” the Cornwall Council spokesperson said. 

“Accommodation is in short supply at present – competition from the holiday market at this time of year means there is very limited availability to meet the needs of homeless households. The current demand for accommodation is therefore not a result of the forthcoming G7 summit.

“Our priority is to keep people safe and we are working hard in the short term to find suitable emergency accommodation for all those who need it.”

The local authority added that they are spending more than £40m to increase accommodation capacity across Cornwall, so far acquiring more than 100 properties. The council will also open a new purpose-built hub for rough sleepers in November and is using funding from the UK government’s Next Steps Accommodation Fund to provide homes and fund support workers in a bid to meet demand.