They say that most people are only two pay checks away from being homeless, maybe it would have been good to mentioned that when the Estate Agent looked down her nose at me after I said I was on Housing Benefit!
I did not have a deposit,so therefore my choices were limited to what the housing benefit either had or would pay for and believe me there was nothing around that was habitable. I could only rent a place for one now my son was old enough to leave home, the devastation of this was too much for me. I could not help but wonder what the hell had happened to the young girl, the me who brought her own flat in Fulham and if it had gone the other way would have been mortage free by now! I slowly began to collapse emotionally, not able to pack, unable to function and looking at places that were so disgusting, cold, damp, dark and stark reminders of how far down the social strata I had gone.
This all began two years ago today when I was given notice to quit a home I had lived in for 9 years. I was living on welfare, my mental health was at an all time low and I was struggling to pay the bills. My son and I were selling what we could on e-bay to cover the basic costs of things and I remember one day, he was offered an opportunity in London and we just managed to get him there by me selling a watch and a friend giving us some money.
After two weeks of him being on work experience, sleeping on a friends floor and barely able to afford the train fare to make the most of this internship he was offered, which was unpaid, I had no money to buy milk and sugar for him when he arrived home. As I sat there counting the coppers I had found around the house to go and buy some milk, a friend rang, saying she felt she needed to ring me, I told her what the problem was and she said get over here and I will help you. Fortunately I still had enough petrol in my car to get to her house. She handed me an envelope with £200.00 pounds in it and that helped us through the next few weeks and helped my son get back to London to work for another week to help get him into the career he was desperate to follow.
A few months before this time, a friend had suggested I saw her husband for accupuncture, it was not long before he said my body was so damp and asked if I living in a damp house? I was. The windows were rotten, the heating was costing me a fortune which I did not have, it was impossible to get warm and it was quite possibly, according to him, a contributing factor to my depression. I had been suffering from mental health issues for a long time and they were getting worse and worse, mainly due to the facts I was now having to face, but the housing environment was not helping, clearly. I had also been signed off sick, long term after a rather ardeous interview at the benefits office to prove I was unfit to work on mental health ground. It never ceases to amaze me that people still think that benefits are handed out on a silver plate!
After the accupuncture assessment my friend and her husband both suggested I got the environmental health people in, which I did. She could not find damp, which is interesting, but she said the landlord would have to fix the windows and the electricity if the council were to continue to pay the rent…………….wow! So, we were given 2 months notice. Not long before this I had been noticing running noises up in the atic, so we got the pest control man in…………we had rats, and lots of them, it was disgusting.
You sometimes have to crack eggs to make an omlette and that is exactly what was going on in our lives. For the next two months we had nowhere to live. It was terrifying and it looked pretty bleak. Housing Benefit will only give a deposit up to their amount that they pay, and as there were no properties around for that amount that were habitable, it left me in a very difficult place, until a very dear friend offered to help, two weeks before our deadline.
It was like all my prayers were answered at once, and believe me, I had been praying day and night for God to intervene. She helped with my son’s move to London, she helped me with my deposit and helps with the difference between what housing benefit pay per month as there is always a short fall. It is incredible what the love of a good friend can do to change your life and I am grateful everyday to have her.
When it comes to living on welfare and housing benefit, what people maybe don’t realise is that housing benefit is paid every two weeks and that is it spread over 13 months for some reason, so there is always a deficiet each month. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful to have it but it is not the walk in the park and the easy option for the majority of people who receive it as people make out. In my humble opinion, there needs to be an easier way to pay it because it leaves people in debt all the time and most landlords do not want to be renting to people on benefits, possibly for this very reason
I had one of those Pretty Woman moments when I walked into the estate, suddenly my life had changed and I had choice, and guess what, a wonderful home appeared, somewhere that I have driven past for years thinking it is the most beautiful house I have ever seen and I would love to live there, I am. The landlords don’t see people on welfare as less than them, they see me as people who need some help and support, what a total relief.
I really believe that it is the class system, the snobbish attitude that is really causing so many of the problems around homelessness. I was spoken to like a piece of shit by the people at the benefits office, the housing office even forgot to put my claim across,as I switched from boroughs, which almost lost me the house, thank God I checked it and I managed to get a friend to guarantee my rent for a year should I default. All that before I could get somewhere to live.
I do hope that anyone reading this will pass it on to anyone they know who maybe could do with a re-think and if you know an estate agent, let them know!! There was only one that helped me in Guildford, and I will always be grateful to them and to my landlords who are so human and believe that everyone deserves a chance. I feel so blessed to have met them and that I was given a break. I felt so shit about myself because of what our life had become, and it is all now helping me to grow and to feel human again, we all need love and support.
I have made a video about that time, including my struggles with domestic abuse, which you can find at http://www.youtube.com/addicts4addicts