Seana shares her experience of navigating the housing system at a young age and finally finding somewhere to call home.
I was born into a chaotic, abusive household. I got pregnant at 15 and had my son a couple of months after turning 16. It became very clear to me that ‘home’ was not the healthy space needed to raise my child, so armed with a letter from my mother explaining I was kicked out, I set off for the Housing department of the local Council.
As a teenager in the 90’s, there was a lot of stigma around teen parents claiming benefits and being given council homes. In truth the whole experience of navigating the housing system was traumatic.
All these years later I still remember the mean, stiff faced woman who asked for my details. She advised me to stay with a friend if I could not stay with family. She was blunt, uncaring and told me they would not be able to help. Thankfully, a different worker led me to a side room to speak with me. She explained that I was too young to hold a legal tenancy and my only option was a bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation until I reached 18. I lived in a bed and breakfast for 8 weeks and was then moved to a contained unit in a large block filled with all types of people.
I fell pregnant again. Due to overcrowding, I was then moved to a one bedroom temporary accommodation. The damp in this flat was so bad the walls soaked the bed sheets through to the mattress. The damp was making my daughter sick. The plaster used to build the flats was the wrong type. The whole place had to be pulled down. I was moved to a flat in a small estate. My neighbours were young like me and I started to feel a bit safe and looked forward to this “council house” I would receive once I turned 18.
Finally, I received an offer of a 3 bedroom permanent accommodation. Having left home so young, I had no idea about my rights, what landlords were responsible for or what I should be looking for in a home. I just wanted to feel safe and have somewhere that was nice to raise my children.
I entered this run down upstairs 3 bedroom flat and I saw all the things I could do with it even though I did not have any money. I filled the space with my hopes and dreams. I did not see mouse holes, droppings, bad piping, faulty electrics or the dodgy fire place. I signed the tenancy.
First night I stayed there my friend saw a mouse; I was horrified but assumed it was one mouse. I was so wrong! The house was infested. Pest control told me this was what I should expect in London, they put traps down, left poison, disposed of the dead ones and left. I couldn’t move around my own home without fear. Eventually, I had a breakdown. I packed my kids up and left to go back to the dysfunctional home with my mother. The council told me I had made myself intentionally homeless.
I sought legal advice, took pictures and explained that the mice had to be coming from the downstairs flat. They eventually got a court order to go in the downstairs flat and it was a mouse city! I won my case.
Eventually I was given another 3 bed flat and this time I checked for holes. The place was small but I was not on top of anyone and I had a small garden for the kids. I signed the tenancy. I did not check for roaches. They were everywhere. The council do not pay for pest control to get rid of roaches the tenant has to pay for the treatments. I gave up on feeling safe.
I used to manifest a home I could feel safe in, have a table and chairs to feed the kids at, enough space for them all to have a bed, cupboards that could fit the food in, and no pests! I would sit and just dream about this house.
I started to get at the council about all the repairs in the house; I called constantly reporting repairs. I even got compensation for them not attending to repairs when they were supposed to (yes you can do that!) Eventually, they realised they could not do all the work with us living in the property and they offered us a town house just up the road, I was not excited at all, I did not expect anything good.
I went to view the property, the housing officer lead me straight through to the kitchen and I just dropped to my knees and cried! Straight away I said yes, the housing officer was smiling and asking if I wanted to see the rest of the house and I told him we would live in the kitchen if needs be as it was so big! I could have a table, the kids could have a little space each.
Finally I felt safe; my kids are safe. I travel home from my job at St Mungo’s and I am still filled with gratitude and happiness that I am on my way home to a place I love. I am so grateful for that safe space however it was no easy journey, it was not handed to me on a silver platter. The journey was long and hard. It started when I was just 16 and I am now 41. I have been in my home for 5 years now.