The Government regrets that the Opposition have now also chosen to politicise the presence in the Retreat Centre of a group of persons who have been provided with free shelter there for several months.
In order to support those persons, Government has offered alternative accommodation at either the Emile Hostel for £ 20 a day or at the Sunrise Motel for £9.50 a week.
Since March, those at the Retreat Centre have been given temporary accommodation free of charge, with free food, free security, free room cleaning and free laundry changes. They have also had the use of a day room with television, free of charge.
It is important to bear in mind that this was a temporary arrangement and that they had originally signed up to vacating the premises when asked to do so by the Office of Civil Contingency.
The people of Gibraltar have assisted these persons in their hour of need and borne their costs over many months. While this was perfectly reasonable in the exceptional circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone will understand that this situation of having everything for free cannot simply continue indefinitely.
It would also be just as wrong for these individuals to jump the queue to the top of the Housing waiting list, when some are not even entitled to Government housing.
Indeed, it would be very sad to see the renowned generosity of the people of Gibraltar being taken advantage of in this way.
On three occasions, a multi-agency team from the Housing Department, Civil Contingencies and the Care Agency has met with the 15 individuals in order to support and assist them. At the last of these meetings on 9 July, it was made clear that the offer of temporary accommodation at the Retreat Centre would end on 4 August as the facility would revert to its original, intended function of providing single rooms for the isolation of those suffering from positive Covid and Covid-related cases.
The period was further extended to 9 August, which means that a whole month has been provided for the occupants to find alternative accommodation. Some have now done so.
Throughout this process, the different needs of other Retreat Centre occupants have been met – one went into Bruce’s Farm, one is being repatriated to Morocco, one is in the Emil Hostel, etc. One individual who did meet the housing criteria for allocation and who was at the top of the Housing waiting list has indeed been accommodated in line with his entitlement.
The 11 flats which have been earmarked to assist men in need are in a state of refurbishment undergoing construction works and some, for example, are still without bathrooms.
The Retreat Centre was handed over to the Office of Civil Contingencies as a result of COVID-19. It has always been earmarked as an isolation facility and is currently being used as an isolation facility for confirmed/suspected cases of COVID-19.
It is very easy for the Opposition to criticise from the sidelines – if the GSD believe that these persons should continue to be subsidised by the taxpayer or that they should jump the housing queue then they should have the courage to say it!!