Thomas & Ruth. Searching for safety with no local connection.

“We first got together when we were eighteen. She worked in the local chip shop. I loved her red hair. After that I just kept going back until she went out with me. We went our separate ways for a few years, but then we got back together years later. It’s good that we’ve got each other. I think if one of us had been on our own we would have given up by now.

We’re from the north east but we had to leave there in a hurry a couple of months ago after getting harassed. We were living together but I still had a tenancy on my old house with another tenant, who unbeknownst to me, had got involved with some drug dealers while I wasn’t there. The first I heard of it was when these eight blokes turned up outside Ruth’s house wanting to know where he was. Apparently, he’d just disappeared and as I was still registered at that address they must have tracked me down thinking I might know something. They assaulted me, they threatened Ruth, and then they just started harassing us all the time. It felt like they were trying to drive us out of town. I think they just wanted us out of the way, and in the end, that’s exactly what we decided to do.     

After the police investigation a lot of them got caught and locked up which obviously made us feel much safer, but we were still scared enough to think about leaving town, and then the police gave us a letter advising us to move away as well, so we decided to make a fresh start away from it all. Ruth wasn’t working at the time, and I’d just begun a landscaping business which meant we didn’t have much money, but we were told that letter should have allowed us housing support anywhere else in the country, but unfortunately that’s not been the case.   

We stayed in a couple of B&Bs when we first got here while we tried to register for housing benefit, but that was two months ago now, and we’ve just been bounced from one place to another ever since. Basically, because we’ve got no local connection we were told we weren’t eligible for any help at all, and because we’ve got no substance abuse or serious mental health problems we’re not entitled to emergency accommodation either. We gave them all the details from the police, but it took for them six weeks for them to follow it up properly, and by that time we’d been forced to move into a tent in the park, just to try and preserve the little money we had.  

We managed to get legal-aid from a housing charity who supported our case, but when we asked for the letter explaining their original decision so we could challenge it, the housing officer claimed their printer was broken. They’re supposed to give you that decision in writing within ten days apparently, but they made us wait for nearly six weeks. Even our legal-aid solicitor couldn’t make them hand it over. If it went on any longer I was ready to go to the papers and tell the whole story. We’ve been told by several people that they were prolonging it intentionally, just to try and make us give up.

When we finally got a meeting with them they suddenly changed their mind and said that after two months living in a tent they were satisfied we were actually homeless after all, but even then, the maximum housing benefit we can receive on our joint claim is £408, and most one bed flats on the market are between £500 - £600, so if you can’t find that extra money yourself, let alone find a private landlord willing to trust you to make up the shortfall, I don’t know how anyone is able to get out of this situation. We even said we’d be happy to move further out of town where the rents are cheaper, but it turns out you just get less housing benefit there as well, so there’s not much point in that.

We did ask about social housing as well, but apparently there are 358 people in the queue ahead of us already, and only 18 one bed flats available. The only other option is to make separate claims, which means we’d have to live in separate rooms in a shared house, which is hardly ideal for us as a couple, but also Ruth shares custody of her son with her ex-partner as well, so we really need somewhere for him to come and stay too.

At the moment we think our best option is to stay in the tent for another two months and try to save what we can on our own. We’ve applied to a special church fund which helps people pay their initial deposit, and if we can save enough to pay the first month’s rent ourselves all we would have to do then is hope we can find a private landlord who will actually rent to us at all.

We’ve told people on social media that we’ve moved here now, so people know anyway, and we’re determined to make a new life. I’ve started advertising my business and I’ve managed to set up a website and get flyers printed, but while we’re living in a tent it’s impossible to really start. We’re relying on charity just to survive. We don’t come from this kind of background. We’re both quite self-reliant but we never thought it would take this long to get the help we needed. I know they need to help people with priority issues too, but if we just got that little help sooner we would have been back on our feet in no time.

The police have spoken to us in the park a few times, and they said they don’t mind us staying there, but the problem is the park will be full of big summer events and festivals soon, and that means we would have to move because of all the security they have to put in place. After that, I don’t know where we’ll go.”   

Thomas & Ruth

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