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Homeless couple forced to live in public toilets in Rose Street, Sheerness

By Alan Smith

An elderly couple forced to live in public toilets say they have been refused council accommodation.

Thomas and Kathleen Vinall spent a month living in the toilets in Rose Street, Sheerness, but were ordered out by Swale council.

They later switched to sleeping in their Ford Focus.

Homeless couple Thomas and Kathleen Vinall on the streets of Sheerness (9206614)
Homeless couple Thomas and Kathleen Vinall on the streets of Sheerness (9206614)

Mr Vinall, who originally hails from Stepney Green in East London, is 75 and has a long list of health problems including angina and arthritis and has suffered two strokes.

His wife Kathleen, 70, originally from Portsmouth, is in a wheelchair after having her legs crushed in a road accident three years ago.

She was only discharged from Medway Hospital on April 26.

During the last cold spell the pair were given emergency accommodation in two Premier Inns in Medway, a house in Balmoral Road, Gillingham, and Peregrine Drive, Sittingbourne.

But now they are back on the streets of Sheerness sleeping rough.

Mr Vinall, a former panel-beater, dustman and long-distance lorry driver, said: “We have sleeping bags and wrap up in jumpers and coats to keep warm.

"We have tried to find private accommodation but landlords expect a month's rent as security plus a month's rent up front. We just don't have that type of money."

The couple were sleeping in the Rose Street public toilets until being kicked out by the council
The couple were sleeping in the Rose Street public toilets until being kicked out by the council

Mrs Vinall said: “We were offered one place which had 30 steps but I couldn’t climb them.”

The couple’s car is now off the road and in a garage in Dunstable owned by Mr Vinall’s brother.

The pair, who have been married for 13 years, say they have no close family. They are no stranger to controversy.

Mr Vinall admits he floored a neighbour in a fight 20 years ago when they were living in Faversham.

He was given a suspended prison sentence for grievous bodily harm.

The man had his nose and jaw broken in the attack and was left with three broken ribs.

Mr Vinall said: “I’m not proud of what I did but he came at me with what I thought was a knife.”

On the streets, Thomas and Kathleen Vinall
On the streets, Thomas and Kathleen Vinall

The couple were also evicted after council workmen discovered a stash of axes.

Mr Vinall said: “They said I had offensive weapons which was not allowed. But they were a family heirloom.

"My father used to work in Bertram Mills’ circus as a knife-thrower. They were his.”

A Swale council spokesman said: “We have worked with this couple on a number of occasions since they lost their social housing tenancy in 2014 due to their landlord obtaining a re-possession order.

“When assessing if someone is homeless, and whether we have a duty to find them accommodation, we have to consider the reasons why a person has lost their accommodation.

"In this case, despite not having a duty to offer them temporary accommodation, we chose to do so in the hope that we could help them find a long-term solution.

“Unfortunately, they were asked to leave the accommodation we arranged and we were left with no choice but to end our discretionary duty to provide temporary accommodation.

“Despite this, we have continued to work with other agencies who have been working to try to find a long-term solution which has included the offer of residential care for Mrs Vinall from Kent social services."

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