The times article about homelessness
Each morning, I come to work at Vice, the media company in east London where I’m a trainee producer making documentaries. I’m dressed up in my glam clothes, working with a room full of young people passionate about what they do.
Then, at the end of each day, I go “home” to my mum and 14-year-old sister — except it’s not home, it’s three rooms in a hostel for homeless people. I jokingly call it “the palace”. Mum calls it “the place” or “back here”. Sometimes she calls it “the prison” — it’s the beige, spongy walls, low ceilings and high windows.
I can’t get in from work, run a bath and relax. My sister can’t come home from school and retreat to her room. There’s no way to switch off, no winding down, no normality. Even sitting watching TV isn’t the same because there we are, dangling in this small, stale space, constantly reminded of what it isn’t.
I live a double life, but there’s no escaping the fact that you’re homeless. Wherever I am, even if I don’t think about it, it’s in the back of my head, affecting my mood.
It was last year’s summer term. I was finishing my dissertation in Manchester University library when my mum called from our home in Essex. She’d kept it from me as long as possible, exhausting every avenue, but our landlord was selling our home and we had nowhere to go.
My first thought was to rush back but I couldn’t: I had to finish my degree in English literature and drama and during that time I told no one. There was nothing I could physically do to help my mum, so I concentrated on my dissertation and finals — which could help me. I got a first, the highest in my year.
When I got home that summer there was a trestle where our table used to be. My mum had sold it. That was the first sign that we were starting to move. That evening I sat down with my mum and sister and we talked about what was happening and why. We’d been on the waiting list for a council house for 13 years. Our home was owned by a multinational corporation that wasn’t too interested in making money from its bits of property, so our rent had stayed at a reasonable level. Now it had been sold off and the rest of the rental market in our area had risen beyond anything we could afford. We didn’t have savings for an enormous deposit either. Our only option was to pack our belongings, go to the council and declare ourselves homeless.
We’d lived in that house for 13 years and when we first moved in it was like a house made of gold, our safe place. It wasn’t big — two rooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs — but it was light and open and affordable and we loved it. We had a big garden and Mum loved having family round all the time. She was born in that area of Essex and so were my sister and I. Mum decorated it bit by bit and curtained off a little dressing area upstairs, painting it yellow. That was my sister’s room.
Though we didn’t have much — no savings for a rainy day — we lived within our means. I had a great childhood. As a single parent, my mum worked as much as she could in catering jobs while also looking after us. Maybe she could have chosen to live on benefits instead but she has a strong work ethic.
Some weeks were worse than others. If money was tight we ate a lot of eggs and potatoes, but we never felt we were missing out. Mum is my backbone, my world; she made my sister and me believe that we could do anything. My sister is amazing: brilliant at maths and so emotionally intuitive. I left school with three As at A level.
We loved that house, but the moment we knew we had to leave, it stopped being our “home”. A home is about security and when the security goes, that attachment is gone: you don’t want to hang on or reminisce.
Our leaving date was two days before my graduation ceremony. My sister had never lived anywhere else — that place was all she knew — but she was strong and calm, our “head packer”. Our belongings went into boxes that we left with friends in five different places; a logistical nightmare trying to remember what went where. Then we went to the council. My sister and I waited outside while Mum went in and declared us homeless.
The first place we were taken to was a huge, institutional building with heavy, clunking fire doors and long hospital corridors. I’d gone to school close by and if a kid came from this place, everybody knew about it. I was probably guilty of making assumptions about them too. Now here I was, moving in.
We were given two rooms and we shared a kitchen and bathroom with another family. We were worried about the kind of people they’d be: my mum admits she had preconceptions, believing the rhetoric that people in trouble were scroungers.
Instead, they were lovely. The woman was a nurse. She had an incredible son and they were in exactly the same situation as us. We soon realised that everyone there was like us. Again and again, we heard the same stories. “Our landlord sold up and this happened in the space of two weeks.” “I lost my job and couldn’t keep up with the mortgage.” “I got sick, fell behind with the rent and didn’t have enough for a deposit.” These weren’t people “dodging the system”. Wages are not keeping up with the price of housing and these were the victims.
The number of people made homeless when a private tenancy ends has trebled in the past five years according to government figures, and it is now the single biggest cause of homelessness in England. Once you’re out it’s hard to get back in. In our area, Essex, house prices are rising by 8 per cent a year and rents are rising with them. Rents across the southeast are at a record high, having risen by £100 in two years. Wages just can’t compete. The price of the average property in England has soared by more than three times the rate of average salaries over a decade.
The change in my mum was hard to see. She has always been our protector, our provider. Now she was guilty and defeated; she felt she’d let us down. It was out of her control, but she kept saying: “What could I have done? What should I have done?”
She didn’t want to cook — and cooking has always been a huge thing for her. Every meal was something she was providing for us with love and care. But cooking a meal in this gross, shared kitchen, which we’d then have to go and eat on our laps … it wasn’t the same. We ended up getting microwave meals or grabbing a portion of chips, which is just not her.
After a few months we were moved to the place we are in now. I call it the crème de la crème of hostels. We have our own kitchen and bathroom, and every inch of extra space is a huge deal. But it’s not a home. There’s no front door. You’re not supposed to have visitors — and who’d want to come? My sister’s schoolfriends don’t even know she’s here.
You’re not supposed to decorate but Mum didn’t want to make it a home anyway. At first she didn’t even want to unpack the boxes; she wanted to remind herself it was temporary. Gradually we began to accept that we just needed to make the best of it. Mum has hung little trinkets on the nails that were sticking out of the walls. We’ve unpacked the kitchen utensils rather than making do with just three knives and forks.
There’s no timeframe. We’re just waiting for a council house to come up. At first we were told it might be three months. Then six. It has been a year. If this hadn’t happened I’d be renting with friends, not sharing a bed with my sister, but I need to be with my family for the times when Mum can’t cope. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For months I didn’t tell many friends or colleagues. Then, a few weeks ago, my anger had grown so much that I began writing about it. I published an article about my situation on Vice.com. It felt great, so cathartic. I didn’t want to point the finger — it’s not about the blame game — but there are serious questions to be asked of a society where families can’t provide homes for themselves any more.
Every 15 minutes a family becomes homeless in the UK. That’s crazy. According to Shelter more than 70 per cent of rent or mortgage-payers with children are struggling or falling behind with their payments. Soon there won’t even be enough hostels for families like mine: it’ll be B&Bs, maybe miles from your neighbourhood, your job, your school, your friends.
When the article came out, I was braced for negative comments, especially with the Benefits Street hype. Instead there was an amazing reaction: messages of support and offers of help. Everyone at work was lovely — most hadn’t known — but they’ve stopped talking about it already. I’m just here, doing my job like everyone else, which is what I want.
My long-term vision is to make big, cinematic documentaries — and I can’t imagine a better place at which to learn. I don’t want to be “homeless girl”, but I do want everyone to know this is happening and how it feels. Because if something stays hidden, it can’t be solved.
Daisy-May Hudson was talking to Anna Moore. Since this interview, her mother has been offered a council flat
With slight apologies to Roger Waters…
Almost worth a quick grin
You like the feel of steel
You’re hot stuff with a hat pin
And good fun with a hand gun
You’re nearly a laugh
You’re nearly a laugh
But you’re really a cry.
Hey you Farage, ha ha, charade you are
You house proud town mouse, ha ha, charade you are
You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street
You’re nearly a real treat
All tight lips and cold feet
And do you feel abused?
You gotta stem the evil tide
And keep it all on the inside
Nigel you’re nearly a treat
Nigel you’re nearly a treat
But you’re really a cry.
I’ve changed 3 words of the original Pigs (3 Different Ones) but everything else is the same. And it kind of works, I think.
Today’s political sketch in the Times is priceless…
By Ann Treneman… I’m posting it here because it deserves a read from my IT friends who aren’t Times subscribers…
You know how twins have their own language? Well so does Philip Hammond. I can reveal this after listening to the Defence Secretary explain the Army’s botched IT recruiting system. It wasn’t long before I realised I needed a special decoder ring.
The first thing you need to know is that this is not an IT debacle. It is a “challenge” about “platforms”. The new Capita system was to integrate with the “legacy” Atlas platform. There is now a “reversion” to a “Capita-hosted solution”. It would cost £47.7 million. (That’s no solution, that’s a goldmine.)
Mr Hammond, tall and suave, explained what was happening now. “We have put in place a number of workarounds and mitigation measures and we have reintroduced military personnel to provide manual intervention.”
Manual intervention? I consulted my decoder ring. Did he mean people talking on the phone? Was that a “workaround”? Also, there is going to be a “front-end web application” (aka, a website). It is going to “go live” in two weeks.
I peered at Mr Hammond, jargon junkie. When would he “go live”? Had he been reprogrammed as part of the workaround? My decoder ring was already exhausted.
One Tory MP, bamboozled by it all, asked why not avoid the whole debacle (sorry, challenge) and make the temporary measures permanent? Mr Hammond, patient, like a podiatrist trying to explain why an ingrown toenail must be removed, said: “The system will work but that is by applying additional manual resource.”
Ah yes, additional manual resource. I believe that this may be a reference to “people”.
Mr Hammond said that the additional manual resource cost £1 million a month. The whole point of the “partnering contract” was to remove 1,000 manual resources from the administration of recruiting and to save £300 million a year. “In the long term, we still need to harvest that saving.” I think that means firing people.
My favourite moment came when Mr Hammond gave us his philosophy of management. The MoD was so big that failure of some kind was inevitable. “The challenge is to grip failure when it becomes apparent,” he said. I looked at Mr Hammond’s elegant hands. This could be the man who put the man into manicure. I tried to imagine them gripping anything other than the leather-covered steering wheel of a Jag. What did it mean? But even my decoder ring had given up.
Prisoner in my own house!
This morning I needed to leave the house early to go over to Warwick for a meeting, so I locked my flat door at 08:50, and tried opening the main hallway door, only to find the latch handle had died overnight and that the door was most definitely locked. Oh bugger - my house has no back door to speak of. So there I was, a prisoner of 1 Acacia Road. I tried ringing the landlord to get my neighbours at the back to open the front door but that drew a blank. So in the end I had to get my friend Nick from the Fat Pug (who lives down the road) to come over. I had to post the keys to him through the letterbox so he could open the door and permit my escape to freedom!
On my return from Warwick I found a nice chatty locksmith called Dennis in situ. He replaced the internal mechanism with the far sturdier thing I posted up as a photo earlier.
Taken from the Guardian’s Fiver daily Footy related email
This is simply brilliant…. It obviously is based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which is also the inspiration for one of Iron Maiden’s finest songs ever.
The ‘poem’ below concerns a certain goalkeeper of Bertie persuasion…
It is a lonely Hartdog
And he stoppeth one of three
By thy spiked yellow hair and grizzling eye
Now wherefore stopp’st thou Ruddy?
The opposing winger in possession out wide
He’s going to cross it in
The eyes are met, the feet are set
May’st it’s in at the near post, fin.
Holding crumpled face with skinny hand
“I used to be good,” quoth he.
“Hold off! unhand me, loon!” it replies
Eftsoons his manager drop he.
Next trusts upon his quivering eye
Defence all standing still
Charging out like a three years’ child:
The Hartdog hath his will.
The people were cheered, the ball not cleared
Merrily he was dropped
Though Head and Shoulders were very much sad
His hair just freshly cropped.
Fraser Forster came from behind
Out of the Queen’s C came he!
Alliterative name, but straight untried
And from that very Queen’s C.
And now there came both Chile and Teut
With heat, yet burning cold
Superior zests, ambitious zests,
The weak attempting bold.
The cold was here, the cold was there
The cold was all around
Responses missed and failed and bragged
Like noises in a swound!
At length appeared a young Andros,
Through the fog he came;
As if he had been a big brass band
All hailed him in God’s name.
He took the shots he ne’er had made,
And up and down he ran.
The cold did split with the rasping wit
Of analogous monkey yarn.
'God save thee, lonely Hartdog!
From the yips that plague thee thus! –
Why look’st thou so?’ – With your cross-bow
You shot that young Andros.
And you had done a hellish thing
And it would bring you woe:
For all you linger, you had killed the winger
That took you to Rio.
Ah wretch! said they, the man to slay,
That took you to Rio.
The water snakes did come and go
Thus Hartdog did repent
Self-awarded nickname no more had he
As just Joe Hart, he went.
The bullish interviews were no more,
Stage-managed candour dead.
Thus crosses could be caught, near posts protected,
Blood ceased rushing to head.
Dropped like one that hath been stunned,
An ego much forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
But still speaking in a yawn.
Picking the car up.
Left the house about 09:20, and caught the bus, which dropped me off right by the station. Had a bit of help getting the tickets out if the self service machine, then got the train to Cov. Standing room only. Very busy train going to Mcr Piccadilly. Got off at Cov, then caught the Euston train with 2 minutes to spare. Found a seat easily. Old couple sat opposite - well he fell asleep, with his mouth (sans teeth OR dentures) wide open. The most gruesome thing I’ve seen in quite a while! Got off at Watford and merely had to traverse a single platform (of which there are 9 (!) at Watford and another 2 minute wait for the final train trip to Hemel Heampsted. Caught a taxi to the Steering Developments HQ and immediately bumped into the lovely Niki! We spent 10 minutes catching up - she was unaware of the last 3 years experiences. Then I spoke to Tina and the Mechanic Mick who showed me the corroded part of the windscreen frame that had been letting water in. All patched up now with waterproof duct tape, but it’ll need looking at soon. I paid for the work they’d done this week (ouch!) then Mick came out with me to fill the car up at the nearest garage (£68 for a full tank, which wasn’t half as bad as I’d been expecting! I dropped him back at the workshop then headed for a rather rainy M1, having first fired up my new sat nav. Trip up was slow in places, but I had the Pink Floyd Trance Remixes CDs in my auto changer so Obscured by Clouds and part of Animals got an airing on the journey up. Went on the M45 for the first time, then headed through Ryton upon Dunsmore on the A45. Negotiated Leamington successfully and parked up, a happy bunny! Then I thought I’d better write this 😄😎