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Robert J. Brown

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Becoming Homeless

Posted: 28/08/2012 00:00

You live and work in the UK. You pay your taxes and contribute to society. Yet when you need it the most, 'local government' lets you down.

Losing my job and flat over the same weekend in August 2009 was not a nice experience.

There I was, 38 years old - unemployed and homeless. No hope, very few belongings and far too embarrassed to let others' know how I was feeling and what I was really going through.

Attending the emergency housing accommodation section of a south London council with what I thought was a sympathetic housing officer turned out to be a nightmare.

Through a thick piece of glass the unsympathetic housing officer, on hearing that I was both unemployed and homeless and on hearing of my personal circumstances, replied "You're a difficult case aren't you?" Not only was I left until last, I was probably given the worst room you could ever have imagined - yet at least it was a roof over my head.

Unfortunately, that was the only positive aspect of this whole situation.

You'd have thought that the housing officers present would have known different parts of the world, referring to Vietnamese applicants as 'from near China'. The 'security' staff were even less friendly and less responsive - not assisting a poor young Jamaican lady and shouting at the older people who came in to the department - surely it should be welcoming.

I was deemed 'not priority' as I was not:

- pregnant or with children;
- mentally ill or diagnosed mentally ill;
- just out of prison.

So there I was in emergency accommodation with just nets instead of curtains and a lamppost outside the window so that I could not sleep at night. Whilst there was a shower, the kitchen facilities left a lot to be desired and the place itself was not more than a basic squat - all for the fabulous price of over £300 a week invoiced by the tax payer to a private landlord.

This was in a Labour-run council and during a Labour-led government. I was not deemed a 'priority' as I was openly gay, male, in my 30s and single. For this section of society there is no support structure in place - not that I was informed anyway.

Despite numerous emails, phone calls and requests for support, the different sections I was dealing with did not seem to understand my situation and after three horrendous months I was told to leave - with no-where else to live. So basically they were throwing me out on the streets again with nowhere to live.

This despite being a UK citizen and having worked and paid taxes for most of my life.

I was given a form to complete and asked to fill in as much as possible and a different housing officer would 'complete the rest'. That was the last I saw of the form and the last time I actually saw or heard from that particular housing officer who was supposed to be there to assist you.

I was 'informed' that I could have a room or flat in a house somewhere in the outskirts of London - yet I was not given any support as to how or where it would be. In addition, I was told that the links I had with London and the local community were not 'sufficient' for me to have a social or local government housing place - despite having lived in London for nearly 20 years.

The housing officers gave me no other options, alternatives or support and when I asked about possible flats in the borough, I was informed that they were for 'families' only and not for the DSS single homeless.

Social landlords didn't respond to me and I was not 'given' enough points to be able to 'bid' for a possible future home... why not? I don't know - I was not given a reason.

Despite finding a flat I thought suitable, it then took a long time for the housing department to actually support me, get the necessary paperwork in place and then actually 'allow' me to have a roof over my head. Once done, I was stuck in an empty property with no furniture, no white goods and a rent far in excess of the norm - but at least it was a roof over my head.

Trying to liaise with the private landlord and the housing officer of this particular south London council was horrendous. No response, no support and no return of phone calls or emails from either the private landlord or the council housing officer and when I did eventually want to leave the property I was harangued, harassed and ignored - then chased up for monies that I did not owe - all due to the incompetence of individual housing officer staff who were 'forging' documents and completing applications for individuals who could actually complete them perfectly well themselves.

It came across as if they were just not willing to help or support the individual person.

There are still no real support structures in place for the over 30s and/or members of the LGBT community when it comes to housing needs and assessments. Despite working and paying taxes for most of your life, when it comes down to it, when a relationship breaks down, you are left adrift and alone and the support structures that are there for others are not there for you.

Unfortunately that's the reality of many people in the UK just now - not just me.

 
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