02/07/2018 11:00 BST | Updated 03/07/2018 11:26 BST

Birmingham’s Housing Crisis Forced This Family To Live In Motels Miles Away For 2 Years

HuffPost UK has revealed shortages led to 2,000 households living up to 100 miles away.

South West News Service/Steve Chatterley
Salah and Sophie Johnen Hmamly with their children Chamsedine, aged 14, Aballah, 12, Lina, 10, Assia, 6, and Zahra, 3.

For almost two years, the Hmamly family have been living out of suitcases, moving between bed and breakfasts and motels because of the chronic shortage of public housing in Birmingham, their home city.

But the plight of the family of seven - husband and wife Salah and Sophie Johnen, and their five children - is made harder by repeatedly being placed in housing outside the city boundaries.

“They told me I can have temporary accommodation, but not in Birmingham,” Salah, 36, told HuffPost UK.

“I said, ‘I’ve got five children, four of them go to the school. How can I go outside Birmingham?’ They said I have no choice - outside Birmingham or nothing.”

Salah struggles to remember precisely how many times the family has moved since being made homeless in October 2016, but it is at least double figures. 

Their nomadic existence includes stays in the neighbouring city of Wolverhampton and other towns including Frankley in Bromsgrove, each time the distance to Birmingham becoming greater.

At one stage, the family found themselves in Ludlow, in Shropshire, almost 50 miles from where they were living in Birmingham. Burton-upon-Trent in East Staffordshire was another place that caused serious problems.

“Before it was a five minute walk to the school,” Salah said. “My children’s attendance was always 100%. They never missed school. Now, we are always late.

“From Ludlow to Birmingham it would take two hours to get there and two hours to get back. From Burton it was one-hour-and-half.

“Sometimes I work the night shift and I feel tired, sleepy, and I can’t drive the children two hours to school. I want them to be at school but I don’t want accidents.”

The Hmamlys are among almost 2,000 Birmingham households that have been moved by the council outside the city in the last five years, HuffPost revealed in May.

Families from the city have been sent to cities as far away as Manchester, Nottingham and Leicester, and housing charity Shelter described the trend as a “national emergency” that had now spread beyond London.

Originally from Morocco and Belgium, the couple had been living in private housing in the Yardley area of the city until their landlord sold the property.

Since that time, the distance from the children’s school and Salah’s job as a security guard in the city has affected every facet of their lives.

“Sometimes I am late to my job, sometimes I can’t go,” he explained. “I need to work because we live in hotels and we can’t make food.

“So we have to get take-away everyday, and that costs money. I used to spend £20 a week on fuel – now it’s a full tank every week.

“The children are always late, and sometimes they don’t go to school. I don’t want the children to miss school – I feel bad as they are my responsibility.”



Given the long distances, children were being sick in the car on the way to school, and teachers were asking why one daughter was tired. “She can’t have good food,” Salah said.

“I have one son who is studying very good. He is supposed to be the first in his class, and the school told me he has lost that position because he has missed many days."

South West News Service

Beyond the distance for work and school, the family have to cope with conditions that are similar to many homeless families in temporary accommodation.

Given their size, the family are always given two rooms – but often on separate floors. While chain motels are clean, in some hotels “everything is dirty”. Though that is preferable to living outside the city.

“If we complain, maybe again they send us somewhere outside Birmingham. I’d prefer to stay in a dirty hotel, at least we’re in Birmingham. It’s much better than a clean place outside Birmingham and at least they can go to school and I’m not as tired as before every day,” said Salah.

His frustration is obvious. “You can’t imagine how angry I am. I am thinking about it all the time. One of my daughters is always asking ‘when, when, when’ I said ‘soon’. But she said ‘we’ll never have a house’.” 

Birmingham, in common with many areas, has more than 9,000 households trapped on the council’s waiting list, which far outstrips the 3,000 properties the local authority has to rent.

The city council has admitted the nationwide housing shortage is affecting “an unprecedented number of families and individuals across the region”, and pointed to a series of its programmes that tackle the issue.

The Hmamlys have now been given a permanent home in Walsall, again away from the city. Their local MP Jess Philips, who represents Birmingham Yardley, said: “We worked hard to secure a proper home for the family, but it is still out of the area and still leaves them in no-man’s land.

“This happens all too often and on any day we are supporting families dotted around in various hotels and hostels, all living in one room. Hundreds of children’s lives and chances are put at risk every day by this broken system.”


HuffPost UK

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