Trigger warning: mentions of abuse, rape, miscarriage and medical mistreatment
Yesterday I was made homeless.
I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Four months ago, when our landlord told us he was selling the house, I had been sure we’d find somewhere to live. I spent months registering with letting agents and refreshing RightMove every twenty minutes. We viewed property after property. But despite six years of paying rent on time to our current landlord, good references, and a guarantor, no one wanted to rent to us.
The problem is that the UK is inherently ableist. I have multiple, complex disabilities and use an electric wheelchair. My husband and 12 year old son are both my carers, and we rely on a mixture of my husband’s part time work and benefits. Have you ever tried telling a letting agent that you use benefits? Don’t. It doesn’t go down well. Reactions range from pity to slamming the phone down on you but the answer is always the same: we don’t accept clients on benefits.
Given this situation, I approached the council for help early on. From the beginning, I had to fight every step of the way. It was only after a formal complaint, which was eventually upheld, that I was even assigned a housing officer. Unfortunately, this housing officer seemed to do everything in her power to be as obstructive as possible. I lost count of the number of times she would promise to call the following week with news but never did. She didn’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation and often implied I was being dramatic.
And so, despite being full of hope that this would not happen, yesterday morning the removal vans turned up and we were evicted. It was a traumatic experience. I was told on the Friday that the council had found us a two bed flat as emergency accommodation which we could move into on Monday morning. I was also told in that phonecall that our housing officer was leaving with immediate effect, so we would be without a point of contact at the council while we waited to be assigned a new one.
We were all incredibly stressed but ultimately relieved that we’d have somewhere to stay temporarily.
However, it didn’t go well from the start on Monday morning.
No one had given us the address of the new place and it was down to the removals men to let us know where we’d be going. I arrived there to discover that far from the two bed flat we’d been promised, we had actually been assigned a hostel bedsit. To have been lied to so blatantly and finally see the reality was terrifying. The building manager’s face dropped when I told them I had a son. “Well… he’ll just have to be supervised at all times then” was all she could manage.
The room has a kitchenette, a futon that’s too low for me to sit on and a bedroom area with a double bed and a set of bunk beds, so close together they’re almost touching. There’s no space for my wheelchair, which has to be left in a communal area. I rely on oxygen tanks for my debilitating cluster headaches and these have to be stored specially due to the fire risk. There’s nowhere to store them in the room so I haven’t been allowed to bring them with me.
We were quickly given a list of rules to sign as a condition of our stay. These include being allowed only one key between us, no alcohol, spot checks to be done at random, and we are not allowed any guests. This means my mum, who I also rely on to help me, is not allowed to visit.
After a lot of tears and hoops jumped through I spoke to N at the council. N told me I needed to stop expecting emergency accommodation to tick all my boxes. She cut herself off half way through a sentence which sounded very much like it was going to be “there are people with real problems”. N also told me that I had been made aware of the accessibility restrictions in advance – as if that equates to it not being an issue.
My only other contact with the council has been on Twitter. I’ve been assured by ‘Matthew’ that I’ll have already been assigned a new housing officer…. which is amusing, as I absolutely have not, and still have no direct point of contact.
To be clear. I have been through a lot in my life.
I have been raped.
I have been abused.
I have had an attempt on my life.
I have dealt with endless medical mistreatment and trauma.
I have had three miscarriages.
I have been a single teenage mother.
And I have NEVER been treated the way I have in the last few months, especially yesterday. Belittled, ignored, having to make formal complaints just to get the ball rolling…. the list goes on.
The council have known about our case for months. I have been nagging for help – FOR MONTHS. I have asked for help from charities, from my medical team, from my MP. I have done everything I physically can do to try and get us housed, but here we are. I’ll be back to being bedbound, without access to my oxygen, and with my son arm’s reach away when he is 12 years old and increasingly self conscious. My night terrors will be in full sight. There’s only one key so we can’t both go out at the same time. And the disabled access, such as it is, can’t be operated solo, so I can’t go out alone anyway.
Some people think that you can just walk up to a council building and say you want a house. The reality is a nightmare. A nightmare that we still don’t know if we’ll survive.
If you want to support Erika’s family practically, please find the link to their GoFundMe here.