A series of real life stories: Names and other personal details have been changed.
One: Divorced but Trapped Still
Afra was waiting for her divorce to be finalised. She had been unhappy in the marriage for years and to her delight the decree absolute was due in a day or two. But with no family or close friends in London Afra had nowhere to go, and was forced to remain in the marital home, a rented flat in her husbands name. This suited him, he didn’t want the divorce and hoped for a reconciliation.
Some months before Afra, who speaks broken English, had been to her local council in search of housing support; she had gone through the ordeal of declaring herself homeless, but the council have tight criteria for such things, and her application was rejected. Afra turned to a solicitor, who took her meagre savings and appealed the decision. At the court hearing no barrister was provided, no translator offered for Afra, who overcome by emotion found it hard to follow the proceedings or make her views heard.
IN their wisdom the court sided with the local authority and Afra was landed with court fees of many thousands of £’s, which she could not pay; her only income being Universal Credit.
Some months after the court case Afra received notification of the first payment date. Sleepless nights of shuddering anxiety and seething anger followed. “I cant pay, what will I do?”, she cried. With no savings or income she was told that she should be exempt from court fees, but the letters kept coming fuelling her anxiety.
Afra continues to live in her, now ex-husbands flat; she feels trapped and helpless. She is now receiving support from a community group, they will help her reapply to the council. But councils, battling numbers with few resources avoid responsibility where they can.
Earlier in the year, when relations with her husband had become unbearable Afra travelled back to her homeland. But family divisions and pressure had made it impossible to stay.
Two: Bread and Butter
Sheila cried a lot, heavy sobbing that muffled her words. “I’ve almost run out of food and I’ve got no money. I was getting £120 per month the last three months from a charity, but that’s stopped now.” Where are you living Sheila? “In a privately rented flat; it’s £200 a week.” Okay, and how are you paying the rent? “I’ve borrowed money from a friend, I owe him £2000 now.”
There is a food bank not far from you, its open on Wednesdays, can you get there if I speak to them and ask them to give you a food parcel? “Yes, I’ve got enough food for the next two days,” her voice relieved but full of worry and shame. Okay, this is the address, go at 10am when they open. “I applied for Universal Credit, but they refused me, I’ve got a month to appeal, but I’m confused.” Sheila arrived in London from Spain four years ago, she came in search of a job and the chance to rebuild her life.
Three: Congo to Euston
It was a Thursday evening in September when the bailiffs knocked on the door. Evetta didn’t know to ignore them and she was evicted. She’d been served a possession order by the court months before, but believed, naively as it turned out, that when the time came to leave, the council would step in and house her.
She had lived in the flat for eleven years, it was a studio in west London, small, but quiet and light with a friendly Irish neighbour who she called sister. Evetta had arrived from the Congo, where she was raped and tortured, in 2010. She had two friends in Britain she said, one in London, the other one had moved to Birmingham. Canna lived in Barking with her husband and three children, she was contacted but said she had no room for Evetta and wouldn’t even speak to her; so much for friendships.
Evetta’s English is basic, she can understand conversations, but struggles with reading. After the bailiffs changed the locks she made her way to Euston station, where she spent the night.
Westminster council is one of the richest boroughs in the country, but social housing is scarce. They knew Evetta, she had applied to them already but they had decided she did not qualify as ‘priority need’ according to their reductive criteria, and therefore they did not have ‘a housing duty’ towards her.
After spending a week sleeping in Euston station Evetta was directed to The Passage, a brilliant homeless charity in Victoria, London. They paid for her to stay in a series of hostels, dormitory rooms sharing with up to ten other women. After ten days of shuffling from one hostel to another, she was offered temporary accommodation by a women’s project in Marylebone. She has her own bedroom and shares a kitchen. Its not much, but it is a safe space; she has her few possessions with her and the chance to begin again in a world that for Evetta, as for so many, has been brutally cruel.
It was common practice for staff to take food that patients didn’t eat; yoghurts, fruit, packets of biscuits and the like. The Primrose Hospital in West London is a private fee paying hospital for the wealthy and those who cant wait for the National Health Service (NHS) to get around to offering treatment.
Ahmed, who had worked at the Primrose Hospital in West London for forty years, regularly cleared the plates of left-overs, scraps that would otherwise find there way into the rubbish and eventually into a hole in the ground.
Three months after he reached retirement age, Cable Holdings accused him of stealing food and fired him. A sensitive chap, for weeks after he received the letter of accusation he couldn’t sleep and felt anxious. His emotional state deteriorated so much and in such a short time, that after a visit to the GP he started taking anti anxiety medications.
Hurt and angered his initial region was to clear his name, to make the men in suits apologise, but after reflecting and discussing the matter with his daughter and a family friend he decided to drop it. He hopes to find some casual work to keep him busy and supplement his pension.
Five: And Then Addiction