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Occupants at former Dorothy Lucy Centre in Maidstone fear a return to homelessness

Residents at the former Dorothy Lucy Centre in Maidstone have spoken of their fears for the future as their landlord threatens to evict them.

One man who spent a year living in his car before getting a room at Dorothy Lucy now faces a return to sleeping on the back seat of his Vauxhall.

Watch: Residents speak of their eviction fears

The former Kent County Council care home, off Northumberland Road, in Shepway, closed in 2016, with KCC saying the cost of maintaining the building had become uneconomic .

That was despite a prolonged public protest that it should be kept open.

Since then the site was sold to Oakland Care, which intends to build a new care home on the land.

But in the intervening years, the management company that looks after the site has taken in tenants to live in the rooms formerly occupied by dementia patients - only it has not called them tenants.

"People can't find somewhere else in a couple of weeks."

South East Guardians Property Services said it had granted the occupiers a "licence" to live there - rather than a tenancy.

It had the advantage, from the landowner's point of view, of only requiring them to give the residents 28 days notice to quit instead of the customary three months.

Keith Perrin, who has lived there for two years, said: "It's simply not long enough.

"People can't find somewhere else in a couple of weeks."

When the company's initial deadline for the residents to move out expired on August 13, there were 14 people still living on the premises.

Keith Perrin, who lives in the former Dorothy Lucy Centre (41001592)
Keith Perrin, who lives in the former Dorothy Lucy Centre (41001592)

South East Guardians has since tried to sweeten the blow by offering any tenants who move out by August 31 an incentive of first £1,500, later increased to £2,500.

But Mr Perrin, 70, explained that left residents in a Catch 22 situation.

He said: "If people take the money and leave, the council will regard them as having voluntarily made themselves homeless, and they then lose any support and their place on the council register."

Nevertheless some have accepted the money and gone. There are 10 residents remaining.

One of them is Barry Perfect, 50. He has a job as a courier driver for Hermes, based at Aylesford.

"I ended up sleeping in the car for a year."

He said: "I was homeless after my wife and I divorced and I had to leave the home.

"I stayed for a while with my aunt in Croydon but the journey to work here in Maidstone was difficult and she didn't really want me there.

"I ended up sleeping in the car for a year.

"It was bad enough then, but I left my family home with nothing, no possessions. Since then I have acquired various bits and now I'm afraid if I am forced back into the car I will loose them all."

Maidstone Borough Council has been liaising with the residents to help find them a home and Mr Perrin has been told he can move into emergency accommodation from this coming Monday.

How the centre used to look before closure (41002319)
How the centre used to look before closure (41002319)

But he too is facing the prospect of having to put his furniture and belongs into storage - a cost he can ill afford.

The remaining residents have been told the landlord is going to court to seek an order to evict them.

A spokesman for Maidstone council said: “We became aware that a significant number of people might become homeless from Dorothy Lucy House in July 2020 when we were contacted by a resident.

"Since that time we have been assisting the residents to find alternative housing in a relatively short space of time, which is very challenging, especially as affordable housing is in such short supply in the South East.

"Advice has been provided to the residents about their rights while in occupation.

"The process to recover possession is different depending on whether the occupier is a tenant or contractual licensee, but both types of occupation require a possession order to be obtained through the relevant court before an eviction can take place.”

Meanwhile, life in the centre is becoming increasingly difficult, as contractors begin removing the fittings.

Waste bins have been taken away and a fault in the boiler that provides hot water that developed on August 10 has not been fixed.

The centre is due to be demolished to make way for the new home.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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