Photographs of a disused public toilet where squatters set up home provide a glimpse into the “sad and lonely” lives of the homeless, according to traders and residents.
Up to 15 Romanians lived in a hazardous makeshift flat inside the derelict public convenience in Whitchurch Lane, Edgware.
But shopkeepers in nearby Chandos Crescent said they had “no idea” what was happening until the men were evicted by Harrow Borough Council officers last week.
Hansa Waghela, newsagent at Buckingham Road stores, said: “It’s disgusting to squat in a toilet of all places - it’s a really horrible thought.
“I didn’t even realise what was going on but it’s obviously very shocking. After hearing about it, I’ve wondered how people could go on living in such awful conditions.”
Nobody was inside when council officers and police raided the derelict building last Wednesday, but clothes were strewn all over the floor, along with a mouldy laptop, a DVD box set, a sewing machine and an Orthodox Christian icon.
The squatters had also wedged a double bed into the corner of what was once the men’s urinals, and dirty suitcases were found in the cubicles.
Clothes were hung on washing lines, a television aerial had been installed and pots and pans were left on a makeshift hob.
An employee at nearby Blue Jay Cars said: “There are a lot of Eastern Europeans in the area and the fact they chose to squat in a toilet doesn’t surprise me.
“These days, homelessness is an issue and they have no choice but to move into wherever they can get their hands on - even if they are disgusting conditions.
“It’s sad more than anything else.”
Another resident, who chose not to be named, said: “It must be a very lonely existence, but when people have nowhere to live, they see no other choice.”
The 1960s toilet block has been boarded up and is due to be auctioned by the council on Wednesday.
No passports were found at the site, but papers found by police suggest the occupants were Romanian.
Ward councillor and council leader Cllr Susan Hall, who accompanied Harrow Borough Council and detectives on the raid, described the “horrific” conditions they found.
She said: “I’ve seen some pretty dismal joints in my time and this one was just ghastly. The whole place was damp, dark and dingy.
“The cooker was filthy dirty. There were wires everywhere and pocket books all over the floor - it was just a horrible sight. It didn’t smell as bad as you would expect it to, though.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem with homelessness in Harrow but it’s certainly something I’m going to keep my eye on.”