Nobody wants to overblow these things, but there are times when council abuse of homeless women really goes next level.
You really do get standout moments.
Here’s the one I want to talk about: An activist friend and I in a whatsapp chat about emergency housing with a pregnant homeless woman while she was lying in a hospital bed waiting to be induced.
That’s how far homelessness goes these days. You can have a situation where a homeless woman lies in a delivery room wondering how she’s going to house the new baby in the weeks after it arrives. Thanks to whatsapp, people can still try to message about sorting things out while they’re starting labour, or counting contractions, or whatever it is. You see this and wonder if the basic human dignities for women are things of the past.
Probably, we never had them.
On with this story:
Before she gave birth, the woman, N, had been told by her council that she and her toddler would be evicted from their emergency hostel place at around the time the baby was due. Her husband – for those who feel that this is their business – was not contributing much. His main job in recent times had been to keep to terms outlined in a non-molestation order. I have a copy of the order here.
After a few taut emails with housing activists, the council agreed to put N’s eviction date back a month or so until her baby was born and then a bit perhaps. Good to find out there was a line, I suppose – that a council wouldn’t throw a woman with a newborn onto the streets. Useful intelligence, but it didn’t change the fact of the eviction, or N’s panic about being homeless and on the street with a toddler and a newborn baby.
Membership of our whatsapp group of 3 (me, the housing activist and N) put that panic into real time. Distanced by digital and disease we may often be, but we also have front-row seats to it all. You can join a homeless woman in her last weeks of pregnancy and then in a delivery room on your phone. She, in her turn, can message about a new application for homeless help from a council even in hospital.
N spent time in hospital before she gave birth. Stress caused by her pending eviction put her there. The week before her baby was born, N’s midwife sent her to A&E because the stress was affecting N’s blood pressure and her baby’s heartrate. It was somewhere around here that someone should have called time.
Here are some of our whatsapp messages:
Shall I start to do new Homelessness application while I’m here so they can process in time during my delivery as they (the council) r not agree to change there decision. Also make sure they will provide me with further temp accommodation.
Friday I have midwife appointment.
Hi Kate this is for u, as I told u last Friday I went in emergency…
(“Triage today for review of hypertension, maternal and fetal tachycardia,” read N’s hospital notes. “High risk pregnancy.” “Very stressed with limited support at home.”)
Can u send it please (an email to the council to ask for an urgent zoom meeting to talk about N’s nearing eviction). I’m in hospital. Induction. Soon I will deliver baby.
Tell you what.
I talk as though whatsapping about council meetings with a homeless woman who is hooked up to heart machines and/or in labour is extreme. It isn’t extreme. What else would anyone expect. This is what it is like. There are people all over who can’t find and/or pay for a home.
The point is that there is no break from it. There’s no night off with a box set, or civilised day of wind-down and rest if, say, you’re about to give birth. There’s no way to keep the world out. People who are homeless don’t get time off from it, even when they’re in hospital with a baby crowning. There’s no such thing as a breather – not in low-income land.
All day every day people are filling in forms to try to prove to councils they have nowhere to go, or they’re searching for landlords who will rent to people who claim benefits (good luck with that), or they’re trying to find places with rents that they can meet with universal credit (good luck with that as well).
And during all of this: people must navigate a delicate relationship with the council that they hope will help them with emergency housing and then, if they’re lucky, something longer-term.
It’s a delicate relationship, because councils are always looking to end it. That’s because stone-broke councils can’t afford to house everyone who turns up homeless at the real or virtual town hall. They just about can’t afford to house anyone who turns up homeless at the real or virtual town hall. The maths is simple from there. Councils cut costs by cutting the number of homeless people they have to help. They do this by tripping people up with the rules. People who don’t know the traps fall into them.
Which was exactly what happened to N. Her “mistake” was to say No to a temporary flat that the council said she should move into from her hostel. Councils can say that they don’t have to help you if you say No to a reasonable home.
N had a good reason to turn this flat down. It seemed a place that her ex could get into. The flat was on the ground floor and the front door wasn’t strong. The building was ringed with thick scrub and grass. N told me that she didn’t feel it was secure. You could say that it looked a good bet for a man who might want to lie in wait for his ex-partner and then shoulder through a flimsy front door to tear a non-molestation order up in her face.
The problem was N didn’t tell the council about that. People fear fallout if they drop others in it. N did tell the council when her relationship broke up. It doesn’t seem that anyone asked for more details. Even if they did, this is hardly a scene where trust abounds and people feel they can open up. Councils have neither the time to draw people out, nor the resources to protect them. They don’t generally ease women into a homelessness office and slowly build up trust over a fortnight’s coffee afternoons.
There’s also the general fact that women with children worry about telling councils that things have become dangerous on the home front. Absolutely everyone you speak to worries that councils will send social services in to take the kids into care if councils think the children are threatened. That can be as much of a concern as the aggressive partner.
Whatever the case, this council stuck to its decision to evict N when the baby was born.
And how. “Stuck to its decision” doesn’t begin to describe this council’s ardour for this eviction decision. They literally couldn’t be prised from it. As time went on, the council’s commitment to eviction seemed to move from the procedural to the sadistic. The council refused to back down even when N began to beg.
Fearing eviction, N said that she’d take the flat after all (and, by definition, the fears that went with it). Too Late, the council said. N asked the council for a formal review of the decision to cut her loose. The council did that and stood firm.
The council did throw N the earlier-mentioned small bone just before she gave birth – they said they would delay the eviction for a bit. They also told her she could take comfort in the fact that eviction takes a while to go through the courts, so she could enjoy a few months in the hostel with her new baby before they were chucked out.
From an officer email:
“I have spoken to the service and it is clear that delaying possession proceedings until after you have given birth provides a much longer period of adjustment than it seems as the Council will need to obtain a possession order from the County Court which is currently taking more than three months.
In the interim the Council will provide appropriate support for you to investigate your housing options…
I hope that the above provides some reassurance…”
So, that was nice.
N’s baby was a girl. She had to spent her first week in a hospital on a monitor. Which was somewhere to live, I suppose.
From our whatsapp group:
Just delivered my baby… (picture). Have you heard anything from council…
I’m still in hospital. My baby on monitor (picture)
Is she ok?
I don’t know