Have a good one all and thanks to everyone who read, shared and commented this year. You’re central to this blog. Look after yourselves and see you in 2023. Cheers, Kate.
Got a bunch of pretty desperate whatsapp messages last night from N, the disabled single mother of 2 little kids whose housing problems I’ve been writing about for about a year. Happy anniversary to that, etc.
Last week, her council finally moved N and her kids from the cramped emergency homelessness hostel she’d been stuck in for 3 years into temporary accommodation. That sounded like good news at the time – except that now we find there’s no heating or hot water in the temporary place. The oven doesn’t work either, so not much chance of warming up a bit by gathering around that – probably not something to encourage a toddler and crawling baby to do anyway. The little ones may not be in the mood, of course, given that they are both now sick.
In recent days, there’s been plenty of snow and ice outside to make sure that the temperature is as perilously low as it can be. Innovation is key at these points – I’ve just been thinking that you could work up a bit of warmth by cuddling your phone close and reading about the middle classes tobogganing in Greenwich park.
N had hopes for this temporary accommodation, chief among which was having a place for a friend to stay next week to look after the kids while N has surgery on the arm that her abusive ex twisted in a rage. Blokes, eh. What can you do.
N says 2 appointments were made for someone to come and fix the heating, but nobody turned up for either. Maybe third time lucky? Or maybe not. I thinking that I won’t put money on it.
Update: An engineer has turned up and said there’s no electricity and/or the boiler isn’t connected to it. N says she is now back on the phone to the council, listening to hold music. So… that’s third time, but not 100% lucky?
And another update: A blog and an activist email to the council later, and the hot water and heating now work. All N needs to do now is find ways to pay for it..? One thing at a time.
One hypocrisy I really enjoy is this: how the great and good go full the berserker when war, or Trump or other name sociopaths separate families for the political #win, but sort of let it slide when it happens here.
This is particularly true when the families are very poor, or immigrants, or, naturally, very poor immigrants. The consensus seems to be that immigrants feel the pain of separation less.
Certainly, the rest of the world feels their pain less.
In the past month or so, I’ve been speaking regularly with C, who is a woman in her 30s.
In her life, C has made two of our era’s bigger social mistakes. First one – she was born in Europe. She is Portuguese, but here. Gah. Second one – she’s a single mother. This is absolutely not her fault, but good luck marketing that. Main thing here is that C is suffering for her sins, so that at least will keep the jingoist crowd happy. Somebody’s getting something out of it, etc.
Actually, C is suffering for her landlord’s sins, but no doubt that also works. Two years ago, C was forced to ask Waltham Forest council for help, because she was homeless. The then-pregnant C had been renting a room from some chiseller who said he was the landlord, but was not. He was a tenant who sublet rooms to C and several other women, and, needless to say, paid their rent to himself.
The real landlord, of course, turned up one day in search of his rent. He wasn’t thrilled to find that his rent was all gone and that his place was being run as an unlicensed HMO by a robber. He chucked C and the other women out.
So far, so private rental sector.
Enter the calamity that is Waltham Forest council (I’ve had experience with Waltham Forest council’s treatment of homeless single mums, most of which I hope to forget).
Ever on the (often successful) prowl for ways to make a lousy situation worse, the council made the extraordinary decision to move C and her baby to a flat in very far-off Blackpool to live, presumably forever.
Even accounting for the possibility that nobody in Waltham Forest knew where Blackpool was, the council outdid itself sending C so far away from friends, family and her baby’s brother and father – an hours-long, massively overpriced return train journey “provided” by your choice of useless transport companies that at the moment couldn’t organise a trip to the shops.
Surely, the council could have found C a low-end flat in a neglected and downtrodden area closer to home? Councils used to like dumping homeless people in ratholes in towns like Slough and Colchester. What happened to those golden days? C didn’t actually demand to stay in London. She just wanted to be able to take the occasional trip there.
Placing C so far away isn’t even a cost-saving exercise, at least for the state. C was employed in London, but now must claim benefits by way of universal credit. As for landing a job in Blackpool – never say never, of course, but Blackpool has one of the highest unemployment rates around. C doesn’t know anybody, has no-one to help care for the baby and she is still learning English. She has also has serious depression now, because she is so isolated. Think we can safely say that she’ll be claiming universal credit for a while.
So, there we are. I doubt that C will be getting any big ideas about her human rights, or even being human, soon. Even dog rescue centres usually try to rehome dogs from the same family together, the understanding being is that dogs really feel these things.
You do find yourself wondering why this council practice of tearing people away from their families is still such a thing. No doubt it’s just part of the bigger game we’re playing – you know, the one where we’re trying to find out how much immigrants can take.
The screenshots are from some of C’s emails with the council over the last couple of years.
Been movement on the portaloo story:
I posted this no-repairs repairs story on Monday about a Brassett Point housing estate tenant who can’t use her toilet, because water and sewerage drip onto her head whenever she or anyone else takes a seat. In lieu of repairing the broken pipes which are leaking watery crap down several floors in the building, Newham council gave the woman a portaloo. Can’t quite imagine who okay’d that one – possibly someone who feels that council tenants don’t know they’re born.
Anyway, following publication of that story, local MP Lyn Brown got in touch to ask if the residents could contact her, which they did. An email has since arrived from Brown’s office to say that she’s pursuing the repairs with the council (wonder if the council will want the portaloo back).
The possibility of proper repairs is good news. We hope to hear the repairs are underway soon and that they take place before a buttload of poo-soaked plaster collapses through several ceilings and into a baby’s cot etc. There are heaps of little kids living in these flats.
In the meantime, here are some pictures of the mould, water and sewerage stains, and broken pipes and plastic that I took at several Brassett Point flats last weekend. Probably a good thing that you can’t smell pictures…the smell was not that great.
And the portaloo:
On the subject of actual shit repairs:
Visited a part-council block in Newham on the weekend, to take pictures of mould, water and sewerage running down the walls (more on that soon).
Went into the flat of a woman who was no longer keen to use the toilet in her bathroom because of the water/sewerage which drips onto the latrine occupant. You’ll see in the photo below that she’d tried to get around this by stringing a black plastic bag over the toilet to re-route the streams.
This had all been going on long enough for her to make a formal complaint to the council, with a view to approaching the ombudsman.
Here’s the incredible bit though. The council appears to have countered by giving her a portaloo – a bucket with a little seat. The bucket was very little too. You could definitely only have one guest around and not for very long. Emptying it was also going to be a challenge. We had a few suggestions about possible council and government sites, but all of those involved potentially tricky rides on crowded public transport, so maybe not one to try unless you had really good balance.
Needless to say, the woman had not tried the portaloo out yet. She was using other people’s toilets. They’re not at the portaloo stage. Yet. In the meantime, we rock on with council repairs. While you’re waiting for repairs, you can either wear crap, or handle it. Probably go for wearing it myself.
Working on a couple of things, so no posts for a week or so. Then back.
Another cracker from the the DWP’s We’ll Get You If Covid Hasn’t files:
We’re back at the Stockport jobcentre on Wellington Road and talking with Doug. Doug is in his late 50s and ready to rumble by the looks of things. Doug’s just had covid and had his benefits stopped for missing a meeting because of it. He’s here today to argue against the sanction with some work coach or other. Safe to say that we’ll know which adviser it was by the end of the week. It’ll be the one with covid.
“How are you?” I ask Doug about the covid.
“If they stopped sanctioning me, I’d be fine,” Doug observes. He says that he is okay to go into the jobcentre by himself: “I can argue with these people all day.” That at least is good to hear, not least because he’ll have to.
After that, Doug thinks he’ll probably need to clear the diary to root around for food. Doug says he’s got 2 tins of beans, a bit of mince and, from the sounds of things, an ageing berg of frozen chicken cemented to the back wall of the freezer which I guess he could try and make last until close of play Friday (It’s Tuesday morning).
The DWP, of course, will tell Doug to go to a foodbank, doubtless firm in the belief that joining the rest of sanctioned Stockport in this week’s race to whichever local foodbanks still have food is an excellent way to work off covid. Ditto for a rugged gnaw on a rock-hard bollock of snowed-in chook. Where you and I see hardship, the DWP sees a chance for people to grow, or at least to improve their fitness. The bin lorry will be out and about dribbling crap tomorrow, so maybe Doug could enter the spirit and trot after that with a plate.
Another possible plan, of course, would be for Doug to die – bit final maybe, but certainly one way to steal back his own narrative. Looks like Doug might ahead of the game on that one, too – he pulls his shirt aside to show me the scar under which his pacemaker resides. Which, now that I think about it, is probably not something to flash around these days. If Doug does keel over, the Tories will have that pacemaker out of his chest in under 5 and hosed off for takers on Marketplace. Although – what am I thinking. If they know Doug’s poor and claiming benefits, and getting older, they probably won’t even wait til he keels.
Haven’t decided if this one is council pratfall or farce:
We return to N, the homeless, disabled, single mother of 2 and domestic violence alumna whose hopes of liberation from her one-room homelessness hostel hovel I’ve been writing about for nearly a year.
Given that absolutely nothing ever changes for N, I do think I’ll be writing about her situation for whatever timeframe constitutes forever these days – until we’re all taken out by the next cantering microbe, or the sun brings the incineration timetable forward, etc. Can’t say I want the world to end as a climate-blasted fireball, but on the bright side, that would break a few stalemates.
N has been stuck in that one shabby hostel room – beds, “living” area, personal belongings and the family all crammed in it – for 3 whole years. Councils leave homeless families in these dreadful places for aeons now. I think the basic government idea is that at some point during a family’s incarceration in them, one-room bedsit/cage hostel arrangements like N’s will evolve from emergency accommodation to coffin, thus ending a massively-underfunded council’s duty to that particular family and freeing up space for the next doomed group. You do hear people in these places say they’d prefer death to another day in their hutch.
Unfortunately, N has longer to go in hers. She’s just had another good news-bad news week on the liberation front.
The good news was that her council said it had a flat for her to move into. The bad news was that she couldn’t get to it. It wasn’t on the ground floor and the lift was too narrow for her buggy, or her walking aid. She took the pictures that I’ve posted in this article.
N can’t walk without the buggy to lean on, or her walking aid.
A friend went upstairs and took pictures of the corridor-balcony outside the flat (see video). This balcony was very narrow indeed. There was no room for the buggy or walking aid there.
Councils are meant to check places out before offering them to homeless people, but as housing officers have told me, we’re long past the golden age when councils had staff, time and money for handy initiatives for homeless and/or homeless disabled people. The curtain has drawn on those slightly more favourable eras. Another few years and there’ll be nobody around who actually remembers them.
So – back to the hostel N goes, for another stint of winter captivity and watching her own mental health tank, etc. Such is housing in our glorious modern world. Not too many at the renting end are winning. Even people who aren’t homeless can’t find places to rent unless they hand all their money to a letting agent for superior position in the stampede.
Meanwhile – adequate government funding for councils for housing is a dream you can get tired of trying to have. Jeremy Hunt gears up for Austerity 2 and you find yourself struggling to feel it. More and more people will be asking councils for housing help as the renting and cost of living crises crack on. You kind of hope that people don’t know what awaits.
Another morning at Stockport jobcentre! – and straightaway, a reminder that energy companies have been trying to freeze some groups of people to death for a while – ie before this year, when energy companies decided to line up the rest of us.
I’m speaking to Chris, who is in her 50s. Chris has heart problems, diabetes and COPD. She has spent time in homeless hostels in the last few years.
Like many people at the jobcentre at the moment, somewhere in her mind, Chris lives on tenterhooks wondering who will finally rub her out: her energy company, or the DWP. Could be a dead heat, of course. They’re both putting a lot into it.
Chris’ energy company is currently hoovering money out of her paltry benefits for arrears repayments that she ran up when she had a place to live. Energy prices have long been out of Chris’s reach (I’ve written before about people in this situation) – upshot being that Chris is used to approaching winter in the crash position.
Which is exactly what she is doing now. “I’ve got no gas at the moment, because they’re taking £10 a week arrears off me, as well as it [prices] going up. So, I can’t afford gas.” Can’t say this bodes well for someone with a serious lung condition, but I can absolutely say that news of Chris’ situation will be music to Tory ears. This winter is their big chance to finish off a few of the poverty-stricken sick and disabled people who’ve somehow managed to cling on through Austerity One. Infamous leaky bumzit Jeremy Hunt knows perfectly well that these people are not going to survive Austerity Two and energy price rises, even if they’d really like to. But there we go. Such is austerity in the Tory mind. What’s a few more bodies on the pile.
For now, we can all surely agree that Chris and everyone at her end of late-capitalism’s great washout starts the new price cap era absolute miles behind. After that, I guess it’s just a matter of how long her lungs last.
Of course – the DWP is also busy lining Chris up for a hearse. She was getting sickness benefits, but then some wag in the department sent her for a work capability assessment and the DWP decided she was fit for work. Genius.
Chris didn’t appeal this decision, because she was worried that she wouldn’t have any money while she appealed. She didn’t know what to do, or who to ask, so “I just took it… I was in a homeless unit and if I wasn’t getting money, it wouldn’t be paid for, because they are large amounts, the rent.” So, now Chris spends her days coughing her way up the street to the Restart building for various useless back-to-work courses. Things are definitely going to end well for her.
BRING ME MY GUILLOTINE.
Today’s post is an update on N, a homeless disabled woman with an abusive ex partner and 2 little kids. I’ve been writing about N’s situation for most of this year – key takeaway being that I’ll need to write a lot more if we’re measuring success by the speed with which N’s council has pulled finger to help her.
N and her family have been stuck living in a single room in a London homelessness hostel for 3 years – beds, living area and things, belongings, and N and her kids all crammed into one room. You can imagine how agreeable these living arrangements are. Even if you really like your kids, you would probably decline an offer to spend eternity caged in one room with them.
Compounding N’s undesirable setup, though, is her council’s odd taste for mental torture. N was placed in the hostel by her council 3 years ago, because she was homeless. They should have at least moved her to a temporary place with an extra room or 2 a few months after that, but she is still in the hostel.
That means it has been years now – day in and day out, living in that room, with nothing ever changing. To be fair, the council did break up the monotony late last year when they sent the then-pregnant N a letter to tell her they were going to chuck her onto the streets – ie evict her, etc. We can probably agree that that bit wasn’t boring. The council was going to evict N, because she had balked at accepting a temporary housing offer. She did that because the place the council showed her wasn’t secure enough to keep an aggressive and pissed-off ex-partner out. The council said they’d evict her for turning the place down. Long story short: after a torrent of pointed activist emails cc’d to the mayor, the council decided to park the eviction idea and leave N and her kids (including newborn) in the hostel for the time being.