Our Mother’s Day Case Study

When we think of Mother’s Day, images of perfectly packaged chocolates, flowers and gifts spring to mind.  Mothering Sunday is a fantastic moment to celebrate with our families all the hard work mums do. But underneath the advertising gloss lies an uncomfortable truth that YMSN are very familiar with. In other words, many of our service users may not pay too much attention to  Sunday 31st. For countless young mums, it is a day like any other. The YMSN team want to take this opportunity to share one young mum’s story of homelessness with you. Her name has been changed.

Chanise’s Story

In April 2017 Chanise made her return to work. Lambeth Council requested documentation of this. In May 2017 Chanise responded by taking the documents by hand to Lambeth Council. June came, and with it, a letter from the housing department stating that they were taking possession of her property. After frantically calling the housing department in disbelief, she was told she had broken her contract by not paying rent throughout April and May 2017. She had made the payments and her housing benefit paid the remainder. Chanise attended a meeting at Olive Morris House to be told, “off the record” that it was possible the documents she submitted had either been lost or scanned to the wrong account. There was no way of tracing where they were.  She and her children were now officially homeless. Incidentally, Lambeth Council is in the news due to the controversial planning of segregated playgrounds.

Shelter’s report On the Impact of Homelessness on Children

Shelter’s report on the impact of homelessness on children (November 2017) resonated with me. After reading it, there were so many comparisons I drew on with many of YMSN’s service users, similar to Chanise’s story.  The report focused its research with teachers, and how they witnessed the effects of homelessness on children. The key findings summarised how temporary accommodation, emergency hostels, B&Bs and overcrowding, in addition to the threat of violence, danger and poor accommodation affect the physical and mental health of both parent and child.

Our young mum agreed to recount her experience with homelessness and emergency accommodation. As a result of this, her account raises serious questions around a council’s duty of care, in addition to the catastrophic outcomes of possible administrative errors or failings.

The Impact of Emergency Hostel Accommodation

The family were placed in an emergency hostel on Acre Lane, Clapham Common in September 2017. The accommodation was comprised of a 3 person room with a sink, cooker and fridge. It was completely unsuitable and as Chanise states, downright unsafe.

A First-hand Account

The bathroom facilites were shared. There were two bathrooms; one on my floor and one on the first floor. The bathroom and toilet on my floor was in no condition to use. The window had a hole where the vent used to be. In addition, the window would not close. If you were in the shower, and someone wanted to look in, they could. The only bathroom and toilet we could use was on the first floor. One evening, i went up there to give my son a bath, only to find blood in the bath and sink. After speaking with another resident, I learnt that there was a drug user there who injected in the bathroom. i repeatedly complained to Lambeth Council to no avail. I resorted to buying a large basin which I used to wash us all in our room.

In October 2017, a temporary two bedroom flat was found for me. Similarly, the property was filthy and ridden with cockroaches. There was missing glass from the double glazed windows. The heaters were  faulty and mould appeared on the fridge. The agent for the landlord sent someone around to fix minor problems. Yet the big jobs remained unfixed, until I moved out on March 16th, 2019.”

The Impact of Homelessness on Mental Health

This young mum’s mental health suffered considerably after she lost her home. She couldn’t sleep properly and felt constantly on edge. She had to stay alert in case her children needed the toilet during the night. Chanise became depressed and had to be placed on medication. As a direct result of this, she felt her situation was hopeless. Her daughter became argumentative and her school grades dropped. Her son found it hard controlling his emotions, in particular, his anger.

What next for Chanise and her Children?

The family’s experience of the housing and benefits system has improved. However, the disruption to their lives will take time to fully recover from. However, Chanise’s account is not unique, but commonplace amongst young single mums who are often vulnerable from the outset. It is a shocking indictment of government institutions when they allow a situation like this to occur. Furthermore, emergency and temporary accommodation are often more expensive than finding a solution to rent arrears or administrative errors. As a result,  it leaves families at the mercy of sub-standard accommodation, far away from their support networks. As Chanise concludes:

“Living in the hostel wasn’t too far from my children’s schools. It was only once we moved to Croydon that it became an issue. We’d have to wake up at 5 am to leave by 6:45 am. The bus journey was incredibly long. I tried the train, but three days travel for the three of us would cost me around £40. During this time, my children’s teachers noticed a severe change in their behaviour, despite both being very bright.

I and my children are getting back into a routine. Above all, there is still a lot of work to do. I now live closer to their school, so they are no longer exhausted once they arrive.”