Back in December 2000 my family and I were given notice via a phone call to vacate our rented property three weeks before Christmas. When I say notice, it wasn’t much, because they told us we had to leave immediately. Me, my then partner, three cats and our six month old son. I’d never experienced stress quite like it.
I cried down the phone, pleading with them to give us time to find somewhere first, they caved a little and told us we had to be out within two weeks.
What did we do to deserve this? Absolutely fucking nothing. We paid our rent, bills, etc on time and looked after the place. The person at fault was the landlord. We’d been paying him rent (via Leeds Accommodation Bureau) but he hadn’t paid his mortgage for a considerable time. I suspected something was up because of the many many bank letters I had to keep forwarding to the estate agents, and then when court documents were handed to me in person we knew it was serious. When I took them to the estate agents they didn’t bat an eyelid, and didn’t hint at what what was in store for us – innocent victims in some wanker landlord’s mess.
I am reminded of all this today because of good old Twitter and the hashtag #HomelessAtXmas We were, in many ways, very lucky. My employer allowed me a little time off to search the rental ads, visit Citizens Advice and view properties. I found us somewhere nearby (we had to factor in travel to two jobs and our childminder, plus pets and children being allowed) and could scrape enough money together for a bond and a month’s rent in advance. And my family rallied together to physically help us with the move.
But just look through the stories emerging this Christmas. It’s 2014, for fucks sake. Why are so many people homeless in this country in this day and age? Why are 90, 000 children homeless in Britain this Christmas?
Homelessness is complicated. People find themselves without somewhere to call home for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s fleeting, other times it’s more long term. These people aren’t necessarily on the streets (though many are), but on friend’s floors, in an over-crowded relative’s home, in a B & B or other temporary accommodation. And social housing doesn’t meet the needs of these people as supply doesn’t come close to meeting demand. In some local authorities to go to the top of the council waiting list (Band A) you have to have multiple housing needs. That’s two or more of the following:
a. high care and/or support needs
b. higher medical needs
This is so screwed up when it’s assumed MPs are entitled to two homes, and some well-off people buy homes that sit empty (I know someone who bought the semi next door because he didn’t want to have neighbours). In Leeds we have a service dedicated to helping owners of empty homes make use of them – Leeds Empties.
We moved into our new home a week before my son’s very first Christmas – it was bloody awful. But at least we had a roof over our heads and a little security in our new tenancy (they were actually brilliant landlords – one extreme to another). I will be thinking about those 90, 000 children and their parents who don’t have a secure home this Christmas and despairing at what a terrible, fucked up society we live in that would allow this. I’ve made a donation to Shelter and urge you to do the same. Please.