I sit surrounded by boxes as I type this…

What follows is me musing about the past in this house… and how I got to where I am today.
I moved to this village 13 years and 6 months ago. Back then it was just my Fiance, me and our son. We had moved here because TOH had got a new job at a welsh civil engineering firm and it was a brand new, exciting start for us.
The first few years were wonderful. The house was perfect, we had a good income and our son was happy, which made us happy. Then the Landlords decided that they didn’t want to pay for the letting agency fees anymore and we went into a direct contract with them on the house.

Looking back, that’s when we should have realised something had gone wrong and that we should move. I’m not saying that the Landlord are to blame for everything that happened to us after that (how could they be?) but it was a definite sign that there was something wrong in their mind.

What happened to us and our jobs could have happened to anyone – in the end, we were both out of work and on benefits. That meant Housing Benefit too. The Landlord accepted that. What we didn’t like was the feeling that they had abandoned the maintenance of the house at that moment.
Under the agency, we’d had inspections every six months and any problems we had with the property were fixed quickly. Now, we were left alone except for a visit or two when the Landlord wanted something out of us or when we had a serious problem that they deigned to fix.

There were a few occasions where the Housing Benefit was suspended temporarily by the council when something changed in our situation. At this point, we were still trying to find work and pick ourselves back up.

The Landlord did not like the fact that they had no control over the payment of the benefit. In fact on one occasion it was suspended for a couple of months when our daughter was born and we didn’t have enough money to cover Rent and Food – one of the hardest decisions that we had to make was between rent and food. We chose feeding the family over the rent,  hoping that the Landlord would understand; after all they had kids of their own.

Turns out we were wrong on both counts. 

So we ended up paying the rent we owed back gradually over a couple of years. The Landlord demanded that the rent be paid direct to them. We were fine with both of these situations. We had plans. I was trying to update my design qualifications and get supply work; TOH was retraining in an effort to find a new career. We were trying to get ourselves off of Benefits and back into work.

The slip down the ladder was so gradual that we didn’t notice it.

I had so much trouble getting supply work – I never learned to drive and it was hampering my ability to get to jobs. My mental state dropped and Depression became a large part of my life. It was already part of TOH’s; had been for a while – he’d been diagnosed with aspergers and the condition of his back was deteriorating rapidly and had forced him to give up on a career change.
Then Aspergers (aka High Functioning Autism) made it’s presence known in my first daughter and we realised that we were going to have to move to get enough space to be comfortable… but we didn’t have the money to do that anymore. We had another baby. This is something that we never regretted – each child fitted into our family. It made the house a little smaller but we could work with that.

My friends persuaded me to set up a crowdfunding campaign so they could help us and I started looking for a new place to move us to. TOH tried retail work.  Between his back and his Aspergers, it was completely the wrong job for him but he continued working in it as much as possible.

The Landlords continued in the same vein as before and the house gradually deteriorated in condition. When the Roof was damaged, we did as we should (called them and told them) but it took the intervention of the council and the police to force them to make it safe with a temporary fix.  After a small washing machine flood, the dining room floor came up with damp patches in some odd places and when we removed the furniture to pull the carpet up (as the landlord asked us) we found Wet Rot.

One of the Charities helping us called the Environmental Health people in.  The EHO was not happy with the wet rot OR the state of the house and informed the Landlord of the problems she expected them to deal with. The Landlord wasn’t happy with this and decided that they wanted to get out of the Rental game…

…thus we were served with a section 21 and told to move out of our home of 13 years.

We were plunged into chaos.

By this point we’d been put on the Social Housing list and were looking for any house we could get. The Crowdfunding campaign became urgent and between my own savings – essentially I cut out any luxury items and saved that money plus any money from book sales – the money that the campaign raised and my family we raised enough to go for a private rental house…

Every agency we tried refused to consider us as a possible tenant without a guarantor. We found that we were stuck with looking for social housing. The Council Occupational Therapist determined that we had a medical priority due to TOH’s back and we were added to the Accessibility register. That means that we are in the top band of the social housing register.

That sounded great, but sadly in our county there are not enough houses on the social housing register and the number of houses suitable for those with medical / disability needs are even smaller. Most of the latter are intended for older couples and thus only have one bedroom – so even when one comes up on the fortnightly advert the council produces, we can’t bid for it because it’s not big enough for our family.

You’d think that we’d be able to take a 3 bed house and that the council would adapt it for us… but no, that’s against policy. So we have to wait for the minute number of 3 bedroom houses that are either adapted or have a second reception room (a parlour house) for us to bid on.

That left us waiting for the court eviction notice from the Landlord. The council gave us a choice of emergency housing –

  1. Take a family room with disability adaptations  (one room with a double bed, a bunk bed and a single bed and a wet room bathroom)  in a Hostel and put our cats out for re-homing / into a cattery and our furniture etc in storage.
  2. Get a normal 3 bedroom house, that we can take the cats into and have a normal life in, but write a waiver absolving the council of any blame should TOH have an accident due to the stairs & his back.

We visited the Hostel.  Three people with Aspergers and a physical disability/pain induced insomnia, plus a very active toddler… and me. The space involved would have created some  dangerous mental issues for our children and ourselves… so we decided that the waiver was the safer choice.

And that’s where we are today.

Packing to move out of our home of 13 years into a house that is only ours as long as it takes us to find somewhere to go to. Could be as short as a couple of months, could be a lot longer – but at least we have somewhere safe to go to.

We’ve left the campaign open.

The money that has been raised so far is being used to move us to the temporary house and buy a cooker, flooring, curtains, storage and hire a moving van. However, unless a suitable council house presents itself, our only other option to get out of the emergency housing is to save enough money to buy a house.

Getting a mortgage is out of the question – even should I get a full time job at a local school, it wouldn’t be enough of an income to even be considered a good risk on a loan that big with our credit record.
Thus we have increased the goal amount to one that would help us buy a house outright and move us to it as well as any adaptations that may need to be done. I will continue to put my book sale proceeds into the fund and I have added some rewards to the campaign as well, as a thank you for anyone who does want to help us.

Here’s the link to the Campaign – https://www.gofundme.com/edkgfk

And here’s the list of the rewards.

£5
Level One
Get your name in the acknowledgements of my next Print Book!

£10
Level 2
Get the Acknowledgement and a Shout Out on my Facebook Author Page.

£20
Level 5
Get the previous two rewards and an e-book of your choice from my back catalogue

£50
Level 10
All of the previous levels and a signed print book of your choice from my back catalogue.

£100
Level 20
All the previous levels and the Print Book will be signed and dedicated to you or whomever you choose.

£200
Level 40
All previous rewards and a signed, print copy of my next Published book. While you’re waiting for that, I’ll send you a set of unique, hand drawn postcards.

£500
Level 100
All previous rewards plus an exclusive painting.

£1,000
Level 200
All previous rewards plus a one off, exclusively designed piece of Jewellery for yourself or whomever you wish.

I’ll send out rewards to everyone who has donated to the campaign when TOH and I decide to close the campaign – that could be when we get enough money to buy a house or it could be when a council house comes up.
Either way, we are not closing it until we can move to a permanent home, so keep an eye on the page for more news.

I want to thank everyone who has donated to us so far, I haven’t forgotten about you – you’ll be getting rewards as well, because you are lovely people who have supported my campaign and family through this stressful, trying time.

 

Time to find the Scales…

As a writer, I spend a lot of time trawling the internet, reading newspaper sites and trying my best to discern the true stories from the false.

At the moment, I’m reading a lot about the American Election (One of the side effects of being Facebook friends with a lot of Americans) and one thing that has hit me recently is how unbalanced their society is. There is no peace – everyone appears to be at war with everyone else.

You have the minorities fighting the establishment to be heard and to be allowed to live their lives without being persecuted.
You have women fighting against men for the right to earn the same amount of money and to be able to walk down the street without being assaulted by words or hands.
You have the Sick fighting against the Insurance companies to be able to get well.
You have the Third Party Groups fighting against the Political System to be able to even sit in the halls of power and represent their supporters.
You have the Poor fighting to keep a roof over their heads while the Rich don’t seem to care about anything than their money and those in the middle are fighting to stay out of poverty and to join the Rich…

There is no balance, just fighting.

I know I’ve generalised, but it’s more like a summary of what I’ve seen…

To be honest, I see this pattern all over the western world. Its as if we’ve forgotten that peace is possible. We need to bring the balance back. There needs to be peace in order to understand what we are fighting for; when you fight for too long, you forget how to live peacefully.

But How?

 

Homeless Thoughts

Homeless

Who loves a nobody?
Why does no one care?
Where will I sleep tonight?
How will I get there?

When will I find a home?
Who can tell me soon?
Huddled in a cardboard box,
In the evening gloom.

Food from a stranger,
In a moving van,
Wander in the daylight,
Sleep upon the strand.

Someone please help me,
For I really need a home,
Time waits for no man,
Again I’ll sleep alone.

* * *

First Published in:
‘LETTERS FROM THE SOUL’ ANTHOLOGY
ISBN: 0-7951-5160-8

That poem was written when I was a teenager, inspired by several news reports about Homeless people in the cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh… but mostly London if I’m honest.

I was innocent back then. I didn’t think that families COULD be made homeless. I thought that if a family was thrown out of their home, that the local council would sweep them up and drop them into a council house.
I had some justification for that view – it had just happened to me at the time; the USAF base I lived on was closing and one minute I was living in isolation in a tumbledown cottage on an airbase, the next I was in a brand new council house in the middle of a village with a shop and a school and people!

Back then – please remember that this was over twenty years ago… Yikes that makes me feel old! – there was a lot of nastiness in teenage society about how your parents got their money and where you lived. Living in a Council House was okay as long as you had both your parents and one of them was working (preferably your father) so while I was low on the scale, for a long while I wasn’t the lowest of the low.
When my parents divorced, I dropped down the scale somewhat. My Mum was still working, which kept me off the absolute bottom, and being sixteen and on my way to university by then, it didn’t matter as much to me.

As I kept getting told (by various “helpful” adults) I was working my way out of poverty, and one day I would have a highly paid job, a house and car of my own and be able to look after my own family in much better circumstances, maybe even living in London or New York .

I would never have to depend on benefits or the council ever again.

Being an impressionable sort of teenager (wonderful thing, Aspergers, huh) I believed what I was told and did my utmost to fulfil the fantasy they were spinning for me… but life being what it is, it wasn’t until I got halfway through university that I realised I was on the wrong degree course… and that it was too late to stop the course and start again.

But by this time I had changed and I knew that the life fantasy I had been fed was completely wrong. So I spent several years working out what I wanted from life and started working toward that. At the back of my mind however, was “I don’t want to depend on benefits or the council ever.”

It took me a long time to overcome that thought.

So here I sit… an author and mother of three gorgeous children, engaged to a lovely, gentle man with two fluffy master cats to entertain and soothe our souls. And yet again I am facing homelessness.

Only this time, I realise what my parents must have gone through when they were told that the base was closing and that my Father’s job was going to come to an end. That they would have to move our family to another house and he would have to find another job somehow. That they would have to go into a Council house because their credit score wasn’t worthy enough to buy a house of their own.

And now I realise quite how toxic that original thought of “I don’t want to depend on benefits or the council ever.” is. There are situations where you have to depend on the goodwill of other people in order to change your situation, like Homelessness. This is where the Council is supposed to step in.

Because neither of us is working (rather hard to be a full time Teacher when you can’t get to a school to teach) and because my partner’s back problem has become chronic enough to disable him, we are depending on benefits. Because our credit score is neither good enough to get a mortgage, nor secure us another private rental house.

Because the Insurance Companies believe that people on Housing Benefit are shiftless, unreliable and highly likely not to pay the rent – and insist that Landlords must pay another 40% on top of their premium to be able to rent to such people.

Because Private Letting Agents require Landlords to pay to have their houses managed and Tenants to pay for the privilege of even trying to find out if they are “worthy” enough to rent a house with them… and then make Tenants pay through the nose for paperwork, spare keys, visits to view the property, to maintain the property, to renew the rental contract, to pay for the damage that pets “might” do to the property.

Because those on Benefits are viewed as high risk tenants, no matter their previous working histories, current circumstances or actual personalities.

This is where Council Housing is supposed to stand. A place that anyone, no matter what their finances or situations or disabilities can find a house to live in for as long as they need it.

But…

The housing (in our area anyway) isn’t there. There isn’t enough of it, of a livable quality, capable of coping with all the needs of all the people. There are over 400 people on the Accessibility List that we’ve been put on – medical priority, top of the list, but needing special adaptations to be able to live.

So here WE stand. Waiting for a court order eviction to throw us out of the house we are in; waiting for a three bedroom bungalow or ground floor flat ( no stairs allowed essentially); Waiting for the nod to move into Emergency Housing that might not be suitable for all our needs (remember I have three aspies to cope with as well?) for an unspecified amount of time.

The stress is more than that of a normal move (done that a few times before) because it’s the uncertainty of knowing where we will be going, how much we are going to be able to take with us and if our Cats (who provide a much needed service in the form of bringing sanity and calm to a meltdown) are going to be able to come with us or if we are going to have to put them into a Cattery.

One of the ways I deal with stress is to write… and this morning I came up with this –

Homeless
Part Two.

Losing your home,
Is like losing a friend.
Is like being uprooted,
Again and again.

You sit and you worry,
About where you will go.
About how you will get there,
In a place you don’t know.

The more there are of you,
The more your mind flits,
From possessions to people.
All needing “their” bits.

Made homeless by paper,
Made homeless by greed,
Made homeless by people,
Who don’t see your need.

You’d be right in thinking it isn’t finished… there is no satisfactory ending to his one because, as yet, there is no satisfactory ending to our situation.

The thought that there are hundreds of people in the same situation as us, who need similar things and can’t get them because there IS NO HOUSING suitable for them… that is something that makes me hate the society we live in even more.