After reading Rachel’s blog post entitled Homelessness on the rise I really felt I should write my experiences.
As a young adult I wasn’t in a good place, often I had no income, rent to pay, and no food in the cupboards. I would often go “scrumping” and take fruit from trees I could climb or knock fruit down from. Sometimes I would take the out of date stock from behind Sainsburys and Safeways. I was very skint and was threatened with eviction many times. So skint I accepted a job at £40 per week for 38 hours work.
Unbelievably this was not where or when I became homeless. Instead of renting flats I had to rent rooms, be a lodger in the homes of others. Only eating my “free food allowance” at work some days, no breakfast or lunch. It’s not ideal, but it could be much worse hey? I could be on the street.
Some years later I met Blokey and soon after we got pregnant. We were doing ok, Blokey had a job on good wages, and we were renting in the London Borough of Richmond, we had savings and a good car.
I had a minimum wage job but I was working at least. We decided to make our future more secure for the baby and us, our new little family. We decided that £750 a month rent was not sustainable after I had the baby and we would become a one income household for a year or so.
We looked at several options, and chose to buy a home elsewhere, in a cheaper region, but still near motorways as Blokey was staying employed by the same company. He drove to customers addresses and fixed their computers for a computer manufacturer. His “customers” were all over the UK so this was ok.
We picked Gloucester as it is a city, had good transport links, was near Blokey’s family, had a branch of the company I was employed by, and critically had many lower priced 2 & 3 bedroomed homes with gardens. We would be upgrading from a single bedroomed ground floor flat, beneath noisy neighbours, to a house of our own with room for a family and even a garden, but losing the status of living in posh London. Oh well!
We popped down to Gloucester a few times to view potential houses we had seen either online or at the estate agents. We chose a 2 bedroomed house, with a roof tall enough to stand in, a large but rather unloved garden, and a massive open plan living room. We saw ourselves being there a long time, and building our future there. Yes, it wasn’t perfect, but we were first time buyers, it’s faults were repairable over time and would cost us £550ish a month *mortgage. All was good.
We did all the first time buyer malarkey, we got surveys, quotes, insurances and all the solicitors paperwork. Gosh home buying takes a long time. Longer than we expected. We had a move date, a “transfer” date, we had arranged with our employers we would be moving to Gloucester and all was looking good for May 2002.
We trusted our agents and solicitors and moved out of Richmond, our lives in boxes. The thing was as tenants on the flat we had to give a date to terminate our lease. Which we had done months previously, and now that time had come. The landlord had new tenants coming in, we couldn’t extend the rental lease. We were literally just waiting on the keys to our new forever home.
So off we go to Gloucester assured that we would only be in limbo for a week, the estate agents assured us it was all ok, and was a minor delay only, no problem at all, “these things happen, don’t worry”. We agreed to kip at Blokey’s relatives for a week, a fortnight at the tops. It was apparently unable to go wrong….
Then on my birthday weekend, when I was 21 and 7 months pregnant the current owner of our home did something hideous…
She increased the selling price. We couldn’t afford the increase, its “only £5k” said the seller, but our banks and mortgage company wouldn’t lend us the extra £5000. All this as the “watertight paperwork” was apparently missing one signature from the seller, one poxy missed signature meant she was allowed to do this. We had blown much of our savings on solicitors and agents and removals. This was FIVE DAYS FROM THE AGREED MOVE DATE. I phoned her in tears, she still wouldn’t budge.
We were stuffed! All our belongings in cardboard boxes, and we were sleeping at Blokey’s Grandparents. We were in the way, we were not able to unpack our belongings properly, we had about a fortnights clothing and I couldn’t “prepare for baby” at all. We were living out of one bedroom and his Grandparents didn’t really want us there, it was only agreed to as it was “a dead cert” we were there short term. I clearly remember that I wasn’t popular as I’d “corrupted” Blokey or something… we were “living in sin”, unmarried, not even engaged and pregnant. I know they weren’t deliberately nasty, it’s just a very old-fashioned way of thinking. It was the difference between the generations.
But I did not feel welcome at all. The bedroom was full of another relative’s belongings (an uncle), I was surrounded by other peoples things. Then our boxes stacked up taking what space there was in the room.
It feels awful, wrong, like I couldn’t touch anything, couldn’t pack the Uncles belongings away, I just had to tippy-toe around. In someone else’s bed, using their towels, their kitchen, my gawd it felt awkward. When Blokey was at work I’d pretend to be asleep sometimes and just read magazines or books, imagine we weren’t in this situation. This was not how I thought I would become a Mother. But we had no where to go, we had become homeless by bad luck, poor timing and a greedy house seller.
Whilst this was unfolding I had also been shafted by my employer. But I am resisting the urge to name the company here…. I had a store transfer agreement. I trusted it was all above board. But it appears nothing was officially done. The store manager in the new shop took one glance at my large baby bump, and denied all knowledge of the transfer. So there I am, homeless and jobless, pregnant and crying. The HR department said I had resigned. The manager at my old store had shafted me also, he couldn’t be bothered to do the paperwork. Thanks for that!
This created a few secondary problems. No job for the next month and a half, so I was at the inlaws 24/7 which meant tension was increased on that front. But worse than no job, the company hadn’t “terminated” my employment properly. My employment file was just open, but with no shifts worked. Not officially sacked but no longer able to work in London as I was in Gloucestershire! I was no longer eligible for maternity pay with the company as at the time the rules stated you had to work for a certain number of weeks continuously until going on leave to be eligible, and I was a fortnight off of this as I appeared to have simply not bothered to turn up for work.
The benefits agency were no help, they said I should take it up with my employer! The employer said take it up with the benefits agency. Round and round we went. I got nothing from employer or government support of any kind until I went in to the benefits agency looking a wreck, holding my tiny baby, a birth certificate and started crying, begging for help. Eventually I got the minimum government maternity pay but this was an extra stress we didn’t really need. It wasn’t my fault the employers screwed up.
At this point my son was in a third or forth hand Moses basket on a table it didn’t fit safely. We couldn’t do anything more permanent.
We tried to register for council or supported housing but were refused. Gloucestershire council and the various local housing associations said it was the responsibility of Richmond housing, as “the mother was born in greater London” and Richmond said the same in reverse, but pointing out we had almost qualified, and was I sure I wasn’t an ethnic minority as that would have increased our score 3 points and made us home-able.
We were just passed around!
We were no longer in a financial position to rent. But we did still have a mortgage in principal. It took a few months, but Blokey found us a one bedroomed ground floor flat in Cheltenham, near his Mum. In these months the housing market had shot up, so we got much less for the money.
But it was a home. Our home, me the baby and him. Together in a real home at last. I could unpack! Baby would have toys and space and a home. While I was home with my baby, that you lot now know as D, I did basic DIY and some decorating to increase the market value.
It took time to improve, but luckily D was small enough that he didn’t remember, but we couldn’t even give him a bed, he had to remain in a cotbed in our room. There was no space that could be his.
When D was about 2 years old we sold this flat and had worked our way up to affording a 2 bedroomed flat, also a run down home that we could fix up as we lived there to allow us to step up the property ladder a few years later.
Finally we are in a house with a garden in Gloucester.
Approximately 5 years in total we were working our way back to the forever home we nearly had all those years before…. Simply because that woman demanded £5000 at the last minute, then pulled the sale as we couldn’t do it.
We have now lived in this house for about 6 years.
So when you think of homelessness, please reconsider that all homeless folks must be alcoholics or drug addicts, petty criminals or all of the above. I suspect most cases of homelessness are actually caused by circumstances the people themselves didn’t cause.
Not all homeless people are living in boxes in the street, not all homeless people are bad, not all are addicts, and it’s not always the homeless persons fault. I challenge these stereotypes, as does Rachel. We are just normal parents that had a run of bad luck.
Please support Shelter or The Big Issue if you can afford to do so.
If you are looking at trying to get a mortgage see *YourMortgageDeals.co.uk, who asked me to include this link.