Here’s a paragraph from a council letter which dismisses a homeless woman’s concerns about being moved to the same borough as members of her violent ex-partner’s family.
You need to see this. It is a common example of the sort of thing that homeless households are told when they challenge a council decision to send them out of borough:
The letter from the council officer says:
“You advised me that your ex partner who you fled whilst residing at [word removed] due to domestic violence. His [word removed] lives in [word removed], but you could not provide me with details such as address or full name but you were confident that [word removed] lives in [word removed]. I looked at your previous notes on file, your housing officer at that time made enquiries with the police, police confirmed that they did not state that you were not safe in the borough of…. were [sic] you fled from, neither did they exclude [word removed] as a risk area and your last reported incident was July 2016…Based on all the information this would suggest that the incidents are historic…”
I’m seeing more and more letters where every single one of a homeless family’s reasons for wanting to stay in the area that they know are dismissed out of hand by their council.
People tell their council that they want to stay in their borough for their children’s schools, for important health services, for local networks they rely on, and even for safety. They’re entitled to ask their councils to consider these circumstances when councils are looking at where to house them.
Unfortunately, none of the points that homeless families raise seem to rate. People are perfectly entitled to ask a council to review its choice of home for them, but they might as well not bother. I get the distinct feeling that decisions to send homeless people away are made before people even walk through a council’s doors.
The recipient of this letter, Christine (named changed), is a young homeless Newham mother.
Christine and her children live in a single room temporary accommodation flat. They’ve been there for a year. Christine says Newham council told Christine that the accommodation would be short term. She and the kids are still there – all living in one tiny room together.
In its letter, Newham council says that Christine’s only option for longer-term housing is a privately rented flat in another borough (I’m withholding the name of the borough, because of Christine’s safety concerns).
Christine says the council has told her that she risks making herself intentionally homeless if she refuses to go.
But Christine has good reasons for not wanting to go.
As we’ve seen, one of those good reasons is that Christine doesn’t want to move to the area that the council proposes because a member of her violent ex-partner’s family lives there.
Christine’s problem is that she has not been able to prove that easily. Christine says she isn’t even sure where to start.
This problem comes up time and time again when homeless people ask for housing help from councils (and for benefits help from the DWP).
People can’t always give councils or the DWP the evidence and/or paperwork that the excessively bureaucratic public sector demands. Not everyone who has spent years moving from one crappy rental to another has a tidy and up-to-date filing cabinet or contacts book.
Nonetheless, public sector bureaucracies demand paperwork and evidence, evidence, evidence. I’ve sat in meetings with people who’ve been denied crucial rent money because the officer in front of them has decided that another piece of paper is required. Forcing stressed people to chase and present pieces of paper and official letters so that they can get benefits and housing is one of austerity’s special tortures.
Christine says there have been remarriages and name and address changes since she last had contact with her ex-partner’s family. As you might imagine, Christine is reluctant to contact her ex-partner’s family for birth certificates, or bank statements, for proof of relationships and of addresses.
Still, authorities insist that these situations are simple.
You’ll see in the letter that the council says that Christine shouldn’t worry.
The council says that two years have passed since Christine’s last threatening experience with her partner.
“This suggests that the incidents are historic,” the council says.
So that’s all right then, I guess. Let’s hope that the council is right.
You see what I am getting at here.
I’m saying that we’ve reached a point where the default council position is that a homeless person is fabricating, or at least exaggerating, their concerns by definition. Think we’ve been at that point for a while.
I’m saying that there is no sense that councils err on the side of even fairness, or even caution, when making decisions where to house homeless people.
It seems to me that things only change (by “change” I mean “improve vaguely to the point where the homeless person might finally get a council response to an email”) when campaign groups and/or lawyers get involved and apply pressure.
Outside of that, you see some horrible things.
I’ve written about some of those things before.
Readers of this site will know that I’ve published stories with a council homelessness officer who has reported outrageous examples of indifferent to violence.
This officer was one of the few who actually overturned a few intentional homelessness decisions.
This officer was also called in by management to explain why they’d overturned council decisions not to help homeless people.
In one case, this officer overturned an intentional homelessness finding made in the case of a woman who left her flat and neighbourhood to escape a man who’d raped her.
In another, the officer overturned an intentional homelessness decision made against a woman who was evicted for rent arrears after her abusive husband left and stopped paying rent.
God only knows how often these things go on.
I’d say very often.
I’d ask Newham council for comment on this, except that I’m blacklisted by the council press office. I’ve seen emails which say that the council is looking at some of these situations. Can’t say I’m holding my breath, but there we go.