Our Story Of Homelessness
It has been a while since I have sat behind my laptop with the intention of writing a blog post, but that is because my thoughts have been elsewhere. If you have been following me for some time, you may notice that I sometimes touched on a personal issue that I had been facing, but I never went into detail about it because at first I was embarrassed, then I felt that I would wait until the situation improved, so that I could share the story and help others. However, writing for me has always been therapeutic it has helped immensely with my anxiety and it has served as a great outlet for myself. I never imagined that so many people would be touched or helped by things I post or posts I write, but I am always happy to hear when someone has been able to resonate with the content I put out.
My reason for sharing this is so that someone else in our situation knows that there is always hope. I have a story to share and I really pray that it helps someone out there to know that they are not alone. Often what we see on social media is false, you must remember it is not reality. Sometimes I see the portrayal of an idyllic, perfect lifestyle, a flawless family; well-behaved children, a kept woman and a hardworking man who is the head of the house. This is not always the case, but it is something I have noticed a lot, so I have carefully curated my profiles and accounts, to ensure that I am following people who are genuine. I like to read stories I can relate to, I like to follow people who are uplifting, but who also tell you that they have been there and it gets better. Nobody really wants to ever share the reality, the struggles, the tears and the hardships. Life is not all roses, but with the right tools you can have a happy, comfortable life.
Our story starts in 2015, towards the end of 2015 to be precise, my daughter was around 5 months old when I registered with Lewisham Council to be a ‘Homeless At Home’ applicant. What this meant is I would be deemed as homeless whilst residing at home with my family. I was told by Lewisham Council that within 2 years of being registered, my daughter and I would be given our own accommodation if we stayed at home, but unfortunately that never happened. In September 2017, I was officially registered as homeless and Lewisham Council found my daughter and I a room to stay in whilst they conducted their own reports. This was supposed to be the case for no more than 6 weeks. We stayed at this room for much longer than we should have and despite putting in a review to be moved, Lewisham Council said that we were “adequately housed,” so they would not move us. This property was in a shared house with 4 other rooms and about 3 other families.
It was only when an incident happened with one of the male tenants who stroked my arm and after I contacted the police that the Council acted. For the 8 weeks we resided in that room, I felt myself slipping back into depression – a fight I had fought before because when I became a mother, I decided that I needed to be the best that I could be for my daughter. I always wanted her to grow up in a loving, stable home and unfortunately her father could not be apart of that, so I decided to do my best for her and for myself. I remember watching my daughter fall asleep night after night and sitting on the edge of the bed, crying and praying that things would get better for us.
I recall one morning when we were leaving the house to go to work, we saw a large dead rat right in front of the door, this was something that replayed on my daughter’s mind for months after that. In all honesty I blame the council for this because what we experienced here traumatised her and I have been working extra hard to help her to forget a lot of the horrible properties we have lived in, by replacing these memories with positive memories. She has an incredible memory and seems to remember things that happened so very long ago, I believe this will be a credit to her when she is much older, but I also always hope that she will not hang on to the negative too.
It has not always been an easy journey raising her because shortly after living at this property I noticed a huge change in her behaviour. She became very emotional, clingy and would often have huge tantrums, whereas before she would have a small tantrum and calm down. She would cry for what seemed like hours and would not listen to anything I was saying to calm her down. I was also always scared to leave the room in case the man was standing there, because he liked to stand outside the bathroom when we were in it for some reason. We also had a shared kitchen, so whenever I needed to cook, I had to bring her into the kitchen, put her on the counter away from the cooker, etc and prepare her food. I always felt on edge because of the previous encounters I had with the male tenant, if not for my daughter I would not have bothered cooking at all. It was very terrifying, and I believe this is when my daughter’s behaviour changed completely. The emotional and mental trauma from these encounters have had not only an affect on my daughter, but on me too. I had to take some time away to collect my thoughts and decide what I would do.
The fact that the council only decided to act when the police came over to tell them what happened with the other tenant shows that the council could not care less. Once the officer left, I received a call from the council some hours later saying they had found a place for us which was in a different area. I was so excited, and I shared the good news with my then 2-year-old daughter who joined in with the excitement. I started packing straightaway, I was finally happy to be out of that tiny room we had to reside in. I remember one evening when my cousin and I were packing up, we heard a loud bang at the door – we both jumped, it was the male tenant again. My cousin shouted asking him what he wanted, but he did not respond, eventually he walked away. Leaving that place was the best feeling ever.
When we moved to the second house, it was so beautiful and spacious. I felt that the council had rectified their wrongs and I was ready to start this new chapter. My daughter was happier here and she even had her own play area and her own bedroom. I also had my own area too, which was beneficial, so we could have our own space. It was after some weeks of living at this property that I realised something was wrong, there were rodents in the attic above us constantly scratching and making noise, I reported this and remember someone coming out to look. There was an electrical fault and we would be in the living room sometimes relaxing and the electricity would just cut out, my daughter would scream and beg to be picked up. Sometimes we would stay in the dark with just a torch for hours on end waiting for someone to come out and put the electricity back on.
There was also black debris and feathers coming from the taps whenever we were running a bath, brushing our teeth in the bathroom or when I was washing up in the kitchen or filling up the kettle. I told the landlord about this and they sent someone out to investigate, they checked the water tank and said everything seemed fine. Imagine my horror when I called Thames Water and after completing his inspection, the inspector looked at me in disbelief saying, “your water tank has no lid on it. It is rusty and there is so much dirt inside it. It is not safe for you or your daughter!” He straightaway condemned the water tank and instructed us to not use the water in the property, he sent out a report to the landlord telling them this needed to be fixed within 21 days, the landlord did nothing about it. Thankfully we were moved from this property to property number 3, so we did not have to deal with the water tank or rodents any further.
Property number 3, like property 2 was very modern and again quite spacious. I was apprehensive to unpack because of the stained walls, the damp and the electrical wires hanging from the ceiling. Despite that I unpacked (reluctantly this time) and reported the work that needed to be done. The landlord worked around us and secured the windows, which had no safety catch on – we were on the 7th floor! I stressed the importance of having safety catches on the windows especially with having a young child.
The biggest struggle at this property was having no cooker for 1-3 months because the cooker was not working. As it was built in there was little I could do, and the landlord did not seem to care much either. It was later discovered that there was a gas leak, so my daughter and I were moved out of this property temporarily to property number 4 whilst the gas leak was fixed.
Property 3/ Property 4
Property number 4 was another shared house and we were in yet another small, claustrophobic room. It was not ideal, but as we were only here temporarily, I tried to make it as accommodating for my daughter as I could. Thankfully she did not seem to mind so much. After chasing up the landlord and pushing them to have the repairs done, we were able to move back into property 3. One thing that the landlord did not do was deal with the infestation of small bugs around the property, so I had to keep liaising with the pest control team. It became tiring because I had to keep sending pictures and evidence to them, but after some time we were moved to property number 5.
Property number 5 was spacious and had lots of storage space which was nice. It was closer to my family which I appreciated. This property just like the others had countless issues and actually was leaking into the tenants ceiling below us. When she called me to have a look, I could not believe the damage that was caused by the leak in the flat. She said it had been like this for 8 months prior to us moving in and the council had not helped her. It was particularly dangerous because it was leaking into her light – and she had young children living there. After more pushing from me, this was fixed.
Unfortunately, this property had yellow water and debris coming from the taps again and it also had small worms crawling from the kitchen sink all around the house – it was absolutely disgusting! They never sorted out the problem here with the worms and the discoloured water.
I remember being out with my daughter when I received a call to say we would be offered a permanent accommodation this time, I was slightly hesitant given the councils previous choices for us. This time the property was in a different borough. When I visited the property, it looked really appealing, my daughter appeared to be happy too which was always a positive thing. However, we later discovered this property was relatively close to where my daughter’s dad lived, and I was really distressed about this. I immediately requested to be moved.
Property number 6 was just like the others, really attractive and appealing, but it was in the wrong area (near to my ex) and had a long list of problems including rodents. Lewisham council have a way of saying, “if you do not accept this property, you will be making yourself and your daughter intentionally homeless. It is better for you to accept this property and do a review.”
The first thing I noticed in the property was that the previous tenant’s belongings were still there; a double bed, a bunk bed, wardrobes, table, a fridge with mouldy food and a dirty washing machine which had the most putrid smell ever, it was revolting. I also noticed that a rat trap was on the bed upstairs and I asked if the property had rodents and I was told it did not. I requested for these things to be taken away and I was told that they would be, but they were left there for a long time, so we had to clean and have our things moved in around them.
I can never forget the look on the cleaner’s face when I asked her to clean the cupboard under the stairs, she discovered thousands of rodent droppings and she got up quickly, clearly distressed. I was livid, I was so angry that I remember calling the environmental health team who scheduled an appointment to come and view the property.
When the cleaner finished cleaning the cupboard she took out 2 rat traps, after cleaning the kitchen cupboards, she pulled out 3 further rat traps. The agent from Lewisham Council lied when she said that the house had no rodents, it was clear that the rodents were still in the property. Needless to say, my daughter and I never stayed in that property because of the disrepair, the location and the issues I had encountered with her dad previously, it was not safe for us to be there.
I put in a review in January this year and for some reason it took the council 5-6 months to deem the property as unsuitable, in those months I was deeply troubled and really unsettled. The property was hours away from my family and if I needed to collect my possessions, I had to go there with someone which was not always possible, so this meant I had to do without. Can you imagine having your personal belongings somewhere and not being able to access them as and when you please? It was horrendous. There were times I could not always post to my blog or my social media because my laptop was not always with me or I genuinely just did not feel that I was in the right mood to post. I wanted to be left alone.
The managing agent were by far the worst managing agents ever! They lied and made up stories. The funniest one was when they told the environmental health officer that they had been calling me 5 times and I had ignored their call; they later asked the environmental health officer explaining that they did not have my number. The agent lacked compassion and was very evasive. He always pretended he was getting the work done, but it was all an act. He actually sent one of his workers over posing as a British Gas employee, it just was not necessary at all. As we were not at this property for safety issues, I realised that the managing agent or one of the workers had been accessing the property without our consent – I knew this because I would always leave things a certain way on purpose and whenever I went there with someone we noticed they had been moved.
After battling with the managing agent and contacting Lewisham council repeatedly, the borough we had been moved to were also supporting the fact that we had to leave. It was good to hear that two of the people who made the initial decision to move us here were no longer working for the council because it meant that they could no longer ruin the lives of other people with their careless and neglectful decision making. When people in such positions are making decisions, they should be able to look at the files of the tenants and make decisions to benefit them. It is not about being “adequately housed” where you could potentially be in danger, it is about being adequately housed in a property which has had been thoroughly checked throughout. This property did not even have a working boiler, for the duration of the tenancy the managing agent did not bother to have the boiler fixed and British Gas informed me that there was not even any boiler cover! I remember the health visitor visiting us and a representative and they noticed we had our coats and scarves on because the property was so cold. After many gruelling months and sleepless nights, we were contacted by Lewisham council with more positive news, our review had been upheld.
We moved to property number 7 which I would say is one of the worst properties we have ever lived in. Currently, as I am writing this the mould in the property has damaged our bedding, our bed and a lot of our personal effects.
I have been going back and forth with the landlord and the council about these issues and we are still waiting for the council to actually do something. It is such a shame that we have had to go through this and that there are so many families out there who encounter these horrifying circumstances. One of my close friends had to move her family out of London when her baby was almost 6 months old because Lewisham Council and Lewisham Homes failed to place them in a suitable accommodation, they too had the unfortunate experience of living in a property with mould and damp.
If the council and Lewisham Homes would only do their jobs properly and check the properties thoroughly before placing families with young children in these awful properties, then it would be for the best. There are people who are in significant positions of power who can help, but they have also failed to do what they need to do. Our story is not over just yet, but I am positive that without a doubt we will overcome all of this. I shared this with you, so that you remember that you have a voice too.
I am not sure if you believe in God, but I want God to always get the glory for the great things He has done. Despite what we have faced God has always been involved because He wants the best for His children and none of these properties, they have given us were ever up to God’s standards. From the contaminated water tank to the rodents, infestations and mould, these are not conditions ANYONE should have to live in! Before I used to have to fight these battles and at times, I would get so disheartened and angry with God thinking He was doing nothing, but no God has always been on the case.
The house we are residing in is also speaking for itself, the mould and the damp which has sadly destroyed a lot of our belongings is speaking out. I also would like you to know that anyone in this life who does evil to others, will never go unpunished. It may seem like nothing will be done, but God does not allow injustice to continue, everyone on this earth will be held accountable for anything they do to others. I never wish bad on others, but it is a common fact; treat others well and you will also be treated well, do others harm and you will reap what you sow.
I have faith and I believe that we will come out of this, as will you. Hold on and never give up.
I would also like to give a special shout out to Ellie Reeves who has been helping us since 2017 when we first became homeless. I would also like to state that I reached out to Damien Egan and Vicky Foxcroft on several occasions and they did not help us at all - it is very surprising as Damien Egan shared his families story of homelessness.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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