EITHERn the day we were evicted from our flat and made homeless, it wasn’t until late afternoon that the council told us where we could go – a hotel in a town an hour and a half by bus away, where we didn’t know anyone, and where I’d never even been before. I would never have been able to get my eldest daughter, Bella, to school and, even though I was heartbroken, I made the decision to let her move in with my mum, who lived near our old flat de ella.
She was seven and I had never been apart from her before. We had been evicted from our rented two-bedroom flat in Birmingham, where we’d lived since Bella was a baby. It was the only home she’d ever known and I’d never missed a rent payment – our landlord simply wanted to sell the flat, and we were out in April.
Because we couldn’t find anything else we could afford, we became one of many homeless households with children living in temporary accommodation, up by 23% in the last five years. We were also one of the homeless households put in accommodation outside of their borough – in the first three months of this year, 26,000 households were housed this way, more than three times the number 10 years ago. At the end of September 2021, 27.2% of households in England in temporary accommodation had been placed in a different local authority district.
My partner Theo struggled to get to his job at the hospital. The routines of my two younger children, Nylah and Macie, were completely disrupted. Meanwhile, we were stuck in a hotel, living in one room, with nothing to do, not knowing anyone, and missing Bella so much, it was painful. We didn’t know how long we would be there for, but we were told it could be several weeks.
Luckily, we were only there for a week. We were moved to a nearer budget hotel, and given two rooms – one became our storage and food preparation area, and the other our living space. Although it was great to be closer to Bella’s school, which meant she could be back with us, it was hard. I’m studying to be a midwife, but I couldn’t do any of my work because I had no space, or quiet. I felt like we were all trapped, and on top of each other. It was hard for the girls to distinguish between bedtime or playtime because we were living in one room.
In the other room, our “kitchen” was a microwave and toaster. We ate a lot of beans on toast and supermarket meal deals, but most of the time we had to order food because there’s only so much you can cook with only a microwave and a toaster. My mum helped a lot – we used to go there for food. The hotel had a rule that no rooms could be occupied for more than 28 days, so every four weeks we’d have to move all our things to other rooms. We had to replace so much stuff, like Macie’s cot, because it got broken with all the moves.
We were in the hotel for three months, even though the maximum time for temporary bed and breakfast accommodation to be used is six weeks. The housing charity shelter helped us put pressure on the council, which eventually moved us to a flat, where we have now been since July. It’s not permanent, and we don’t know how long we can be here. The council could call us at any time and say we’ve got to move on.
Throughout all this time, I had been looking on property websites to find another flat to rent privately, but there is nothing we can afford. In July, the month we moved into our temporary flat, research showed just one in 50 properties were affordable for people on housing benefit. The month’s rent of one of the cheapest I saw would have taken Theo’s entire salary. There was a moment, when I was facing weeks away from Bella, that I thought we should just rent a flat, knowing that within a month or two we would be in arrears – that’s if we even got accepted in the first place.
We need more affordable housing. Nobody on a low income can afford rents at the minute, and the amount you can get in housing benefit has been frozen since last year. The government’s plan to cut taxes for the richest, since reversed, annoyed me so much – there are people like us, and worse off than us, who need the extra help because life is harder with all the price rises.
Our housing situation has affected us all. I’m behind with my studying and I cry every time I think about how we lost our home, and had to be separated from Bella. I didn’t think it would have affected my younger two children that much, but when I took Nylah to nursery, she saw our old flat and said, “Look, there’s home!” I said, “It’s not home any more, we live at the hotel”, and it just sounded so strange to say that. I wouldn’t say we were settled now in our flat, even though we’ve done what we can to make it homely. Bella asks: “Can we stay here?” But I don’t know.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism