“Home is where the heart is.” Is it?
What does the word ‘home’ mean to me? To those who know me? Those I don’t know? And those who have the power to deny my family a home?
In December 2017, my family and I were stripped of our home. We were told we’re to be made homeless, with nowhere to go. With Christmas right around the corner, we weren’t planning on having one this year. Why? Wait until you hear this…
My older sister, Chloe, had finished college that year which meant my Mum had to change our ‘circumstances’ for benefits. She didn’t know this at the time. The way she found out that she had to ‘change circumstances’ was when we received a letter from our Landlord giving us a date to move out by. The 10thDecember. We were heartbroken. No warning letter or email? Nothing.
Something similar to this happened to us before. In April 2014, we were settled in an old cottage – we had lived there for almost seven years and just finished decorating the whole house – new carpets, new coats of paint – you name it, it was totally refurbished.
A housing inspection was coming up and it was the nicest it had ever looked. It looked so nice that our Landlord’s daughter wanted to live there. We were given a notice to move out within three months. We hadn’t done anything wrong; the law is the law. We managed to find somewhere that accepted us, two days before the moving date.
Straight after receiving the letter to move out by the 10th, we sent off all evidence to show that Chloe had finished college and that I was still in education. As well as my Mum studying in University. We sent off evidence to show that circumstances had changed. We did as we were told.
What happened next? We were given the option to be split as a family in two different bed and breakfasts because there were too many of us for the same room. It’s better than being on the streets – that was the other option, but still not ideal. Can you imagine the impact of this on our family? What if it were yours? It was as if the world in front of us ruptured in two.
On top of this news there were ridiculous curfews which meant we had to be out by half eight in the morning, and we weren’t allowed back until half six in the evening. Our home was no longer our home; we were bounded by the narrow fences of life. We aren’t the only ones to go through this, thousands of families have gone through similar situations and it is still happening.
Who is the heart of the home? My mum is the pillar of strength whilst being physically weakened by MS (Multiple Sclerosis) – she was diagnosed in 2014 – which meant she needed somewhere to stay warm and somewhere to sleep when she was tired. With the stressful events going on, this caused her to have a relapse.
(me left, my mum, my older sister)
A relapse is where she progressively gets worse, so she is more ill than usual. Her vision became blurry, her legs were throbbing, her head pounding, hands shaking, back tingling, always sleeping, unable to stop; stop all the agony that they had caused. It was painful to see the power people had over my family, and families all over the country.
The last time she was like this was when she lost her best friend to cancer. Heather had been there for our family for so many years through all our difficult times but in 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it quite quickly which everyone was overjoyed with. However, it wasn’t over.
She was diagnosed again a year later with four weeks left to live – the cancer had spread. We took in her four children – the youngest was three – for six weeks as their dad had died two years previous to that (also from cancer) – until their Auntie dropped everything to live with them. Their family were coming apart at the seams, but we stitched them back together as best we could – like Heather had done many times for us.
My Mum was in contact with our Landlord’s agency. They were texting back and forth trying to figure out what had happened. They said they couldn’t do anything so as a ‘nice gesture’ she gave us a little longer and pushed the date to the 16th December. Right before Christmas. When it’s even more difficult to be rehoused. Brilliant. Thanks for that.
To top it all off, the Council claimed that we had made ourselves purposely homeless, so they had no right to house us in a Council house, or a bed and breakfast. WHAT? WHO MAKES THEMSELVES DELIBERATELY HOMELESS? We were a family picnicking on train tracks. The potential for disaster hadn’t stopped hurtling towards us.
My younger brother had not long started high school; he was petrified about what bus he was going to have to go on; my younger sister was doing her GCSE’s and that alone was stressful enough; my older brother and sister didn’t want to be torn apart from the family in a different part of town: the ‘rough’ side. As for me? I was studying A levels; I had to put a pause on that. I had to do something. Anything. As long as I tried.
On the 13th December, my Mum and I went to visit a house in Erwarton (a very small village in the middle of nowhere); not getting our hopes up because we never got accepted just like that. (The last time we moved to a new house we were turned down by sixty-eight Landlords. Sixty-eight bruises to our confidence, our sense of wellbeing; our hearts. Just because there’s five of us kids, we’re on benefits and my Mum is a single parent.)
My Mum kicked my Dad out in 2011 for drinking too much. He was an alcoholic who couldn’t change his ways – he didn’t want to change his ways. He lives with the bottle, that’s the way it is. Over the years, beer after beer, he drunk more till he became ill. His body’s too old for working; he looked fagged and sallow – like his future. Though he does still work, works hard too when he wants to, but is always in agony. His joints stiffened more each night he drunk his life away. We tried everything to help him, but he didn’t believe he had a problem with it. He traded everything for suffering. Eventually, Mum gave him an ultimatum: ‘me and the kids, or your drink.’
If you hadn’t guessed, he chose the drink.
After being diagnosed with a long-term illness, losing a best friend, a husband and father to her children, a home, all we wanted was some peace and happiness in our lives. For something to go right, just once.
After all this, here we were: looking around the immense rooms, we fell in love. The garden was large – big enough for a family our size. It had three large bedrooms, a quaint livingroom and plenty of cupboard space. In the peaceful countryside like our cottage, it seemed like faith bringing us back. And it had banisters up the stairs (we had asked our Landlord for these for three years to help my Mum, but he said they look ugly). It was perfect! But did the Landlady think we were perfect for the house?
“You can have the keys this Friday.” The best Christmas present we could have ever asked for. Relief washed over us; the battle wasn’t over yet. Could we get the council on our side to pay for a deposit? Or to continue paying rent? Could we do so much in so little time? We had one day to tell our current Landlord. Two days to sort the Council out. Three days to move out of the old house.
16th December rolled around quickly. After being up all night and day, packing and unpacking, at 12:00pm, we handed the keys over to our Landlord, for the Landlord to then question why we were leaving. Are you confused? We were too. ‘It was all just a threat, so the Council would continue paying the rest of the rent.’ They couldn’t have sent a text or email to say that’s what they were planning? Instead they said nothing except that we had to move out.
All of a sudden, they changed their minds, probably because they would now be missing out on money coming in and no one would want to move in. Why? The house had many flaws that the Landlord claimed that he couldn’t afford. For instance, we had no bathroom for six months, no cooker tops the whole time we lived there, an electrical fire in the livingroom because of dodgy electrics. The house was dissolving like some unsubstantial vision faded.
“Home is where life happens.”
And now we are blessed with this view in the evenings (when I’m not at uni)…