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May 25, 2018

Homelessness doens't discriminate

M took part in a series of storytelling workshops with Little Village which were funded by the Big Lottery Fund and delivered by sounddelivery.

“Imagine your life being turned upside down… Suddenly finding yourself facing homelessness.

That’s my story!

It all started in July 2016. I had gone to visit a friend, an old flatmate for the weekend. I was sitting in a pub garden waiting for my pint of Guinness when a guy invited himself to sit with me. Long story short, we dated and then I found out I was pregnant. Apparently, I “had ruined his life”. What about mine? Up until that moment my whole life had been one long backpacking experience. I had a good job and for my 40thbirthday planned to go trekking in the Simian Mountains, Ethiopia. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do. Children were never part of my plan and certainly not to be a single mother.

They say it never rains but it pours!

Not only was I now pregnant but my contract at work was not made permanent.  By the time the baby was due I would be jobless, a mother and sharing a flat with a stranger.  My landlords had other ideas!

My flatmate announced he was moving to Spain and the landlords decided they didn’t want to extend the lease. I had lived in the property for three years. A good respectful tenant and always paid my rent on time but that didn’t matter to them.  Even when I told them I had nowhere to go and pregnant it changed nothing.  I was served a Section 21 Notice (S21) to gain possession of the property.

I knew what a S21 was but had no idea what followed when the notice expired, where to access help and advice, whether I had any rights. I went to the council for clarification.  Turns out a landlord can serve a S21 without a justified reason.  I waited for hours to simply be told that I had to stay in the property and no matter what, not to move.  They said that I would need an eviction notice to be served upon me from the courts before they would even begin to look at me as being homeless.  Little did I know what I was also liable for the court fees. I was slapped with a bill payable to my landlord for court fees of £455.00. I was unable to get help with the costs because I was not claiming Income Support.  I was not allowed to claim Income Support because I was on Statutory Maternity pay (SMP) even though I no longer had a job, but that’s another story!

I did as I was told, said nothing and didn’t move.  Then came the bailiff warrant with a date and time the bailiffs would come kick me out.  The council at this point said I just had to come to the office on the day of eviction with my baby and a suitcase and that I would be provided with emergency accommodation of what they had available in that day.  What I wasn’t told was that responsibility for paying the full rent fell on me and that if I defaulted this would be seen as making myself intentionally homeless and the council would not be obliged to help me.

I tried to rent privately but private landlords simply won’t take DSS tenants. Not mention raising money for a deposit.

My eight-month-old daughter and I were eventually evicted in January 2018 and off we went to “beg” for a place to live. The temporary accommodation is non-negotiable and if refused you are deemed to be making yourself intentionally homeless. I was pushed out to the borough of Croydon away from my support network and no family in London.

Even though the council had been sent medical evidence that I needed to stay in the borough of Wandsworth they said they had not received it and we were sent out of borough. This move has had a massive effect on the baby’s development. She stopped eating and would only sleep with me. All the months of hard work I had put in with medical professionals was undone in a matter of days and even though we have moved back she is still unsettled.

All that said I am so thankful for the super supportive and proactive medical professionals I have involved in mine and my baby’s life.  They have kept me focused and strong for my daughter. After all she is the most important person in all of this.

I decided to accept the invitation to take part in storytelling workshops with Little Village and Home Start to help other people who find themselves in the same position.  By joining the workshops realised I wasn’t alone as many of the other mothers had faced challenges with their housing arrangements as well. If my blog can help even just one family then it has all been worthwhile.  In summary I feel that the government needs to put more procedures in place to stop landlords being able to evict good honest tenants for no reason and lower rents in private rentals so that people on low incomes can afford to live. I strongly feel that councils should supply more places to seek advice, help and support.

The workshops have given me, and the other women involved the confidence to use our experiences to create change and help other mums/families who find themselves in this situation.

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