“It feels like mine”
My flat caught fire in the early hours of Christmas morning in 2019. I’d been there just over ten years. I lost everything. All the furniture, photographs, pots, pans. I was very very lucky to have survived. Unfortunately my cat didn’t.
I was in hospital most of Christmas day with second degree burns all over my hands and up to my elbows as I had tried to put the fire out. I had no clothes. I turned up in a pair of joggers and t-shirt, no shoes. The hospital managed to get me a sweatshirt and a pair of too-big shoes.
When I left the hospital I managed to sofa surf for a couple of days at a friend’s and then I was given emergency accommodation by the council. When I was at the council, I met a Southdown worker and that was the first time I heard of the Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project (RRP). He said he should be able to take my case on and that we’d look towards the end of May to get rehoused.
It took eight months, a little longer than expected, but I knew what Southdown were doing and we had contact all the time. It felt like they could see my emergency accommodation wasn’t great and I needed something better. They were able to look at things from a different angle and it felt like I was being treated as a person, a name, rather than a number on a screen. With help from Southdown and the council I got this large studio. I call it home.
At the emergency accommodation I felt homeless. I never called it home. I had a reasonably large bedroom with a very tiny little window. There were very strict rules like no alcohol in the building, no smoking, and no visitors unless they were professional workers and had permission to be there.
Unofficially you were supposed to be back in the building by 11pm each night and you’d have to sign a form every day to prove you’d been there overnight.
For me, the good part was I had a roof over my head, my own front door and key, and I was safe. But I’d spend as many hours as possible outside and when it was drizzly that’s when it really hit me – there was nothing I could do indoors. I didn’t have a stereo system. I just had an ordinary phone. And because I had the house fire, I didn’t have any books or my things or pictures. It’s difficult to describe.
I got on with some of the other residents but then there were people who just expected the world to give them something or were constantly knocking on my door. I used to have to leave a note on the freezer shelf for people not to steal my food.
There were people in there with young children and there were also people in there that were obviously taking drugs or drinking or sometimes shouting or swearing. But if it’s a choice between this or sleeping under the pier with your family, you’re going to choose emergency accommodation.
It’s not a pleasant experience – but emergency accommodation isn’t designed to be lived in long-term. I know people who’ve been there longer than I was. You can’t get complacent. Over the summer months I got caught in the trap and was like, “I’m okay.” It was the middle of the pandemic, I had a roof over my head, and it was a lovely summer.
But you’ve got to keep pushing, have your eye on the ball. Give the council or your support worker gentle nudges to make sure they know you’re still there, you still exist. Phone them and ask questions. It’s about taking personal responsibility. You have to meet them half-way. You have to show willing. Engage with them, listen to their advice.
If you get offered a place that’s suitable, for god’s sake take it! Don’t wait for something perfect that will never arrive whilst you’re living in unsuitable accommodation – there’s a big difference between being a rough sleeper and living in emergency accommodation, but I class being in emergency accommodation as being homeless.
There’s nothing stopping you finding a more suitable place in the future but you need to be realistic. My focus wasn’t on getting the exact place I wanted, it was on getting out of that emergency accommodation and getting a place of my own with my own kitchen and bathroom. Once I was in, it would then give me more options and I could look at other properties.
I would love to have a one bedroom flat on the ground floor, but right now I’m very happy here. It’s a housing association property. A decent size. I was on the local housing register and because I had limited access to the internet, a lady at the council offered to place bids on suitable properties for me.
It only took five days from when the property was officially offered to me to when I actually moved in! I hadn’t seen the place but I’d heard good things about it and had done a bit of research. I knew it was on third floor, it was quiet, in good condition, and what the amenities were.
I turned up on the last day of September 2020, met one of the managers, picked up the key and she said, “Right, it’s yours!” The 1st October was the first night I slept here.
My Southdown worker helped me get here. The second I got offered the property he supported me to check I had everything. My total attention was on getting this place and getting all the paperwork absolutely bang on correct so there was no stalling.
He was double checking things and looking at the next thing we had to do. He supported me to fill out council tax forms and housing benefit forms, helped me arrange the rent in advance – all the things I would normally avoid by myself.
I would have found it very very difficult without that support and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have got this place if I hadn’t received it. Without the help of Southdown I would have really struggled, especially around getting two weeks rent in advance and the admin side of things. My worker was able to communicate to the council in a way I couldn’t.
It feels like a palace compared to the emergency accommodation. It feels like mine. I’ve got room, a coffee table, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t do the washing up until tomorrow morning!
It’s a feeling of, “We’ve done it! Not, I’ve done it.”
As part of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s national rough sleeper strategy, East Sussex County Council’s Rough Sleeping Initiative has been working with housing teams across the county, including the Rapid Rehousing Pathway, to end rough sleeping. The Rapid Rehousing Pathway Project works with rough sleepers to support them to find suitable accommodation with ongoing tenancy sustainment support. Referrals to the project are made by the Housing Options teams in participating local authorities.