JUST a few months ago, this single dad was living in a terrifying temporary accommodation with alcoholics, drug addicts – and his six-year-old daughter.
Mark Holland, 34, from Hertfordshire, was desperate to escape the situation and find a safer home for Macy.
Now he's looking forward to spending Christmas in their very own home. Here he tells Fabulous his story….
“This time last year, my daughter Macy and I didn’t have a home.
I’d been living in a privately rented house with the mum of my youngest child, a baby called Lia, but we split so I moved out in December 2019.
I went to Dacorum Borough Council for help in finding emergency accommodation, and that’s when they told me they couldn’t help.
As my name was on the tenancy agreement of the house I shared with my ex, they said I already had a home and had made myself “intentionally homeless”.
I was shocked by the phrase. “Who makes themselves homeless on purpose?” I thought. "Especially with kids involved."
Devastated, I went to my mum’s house and we stayed there over the festive period last year. It was lovely for Macy to be there with her gran.
In the end, I had no choice but to take my name off the tenancy agreement, I’d still been paying the bills and was getting into debt.
It was disgusting, and stank. I couldn’t believe the council thought it was acceptable for a child to be housed with alcoholics and drug addicts
When the pandemic hit, things went from bad to worse. My mum has health issues and is high-risk, so we had to move out to protect her from the virus.
I went to the council to say we were homeless again, but they said there was nothing they could do and that I had to stay with friends until lockdown ended. I wasn't offered a hotel.
Luckily a mate let me sleep at his place, but we were on foam mattresses on the floor.
He and his partner have their own child – and we were still so grateful. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of friends and family.
Financially life was a strain. Normally I do plastering work, taping and jointing, but I couldn't work during lockdown as Macy was being homeschooled.
My car broke down and I couldn’t afford to fix it, leaving me feeling more cut off.
With Macy, I made out like it was an adventure and tried to make life as fun as I possibly could, hiding the stress I was really under.
Six weeks into lockdown, the council called and told me to get in contact once lockdown was over, so I was on the phone immediately on May 13.
Finally, they offered temporary accommodation. It was a relief – until I saw the place.
It was a shared house, and Macy and I had just one private bedroom. The kitchen, bathroom and lounge were all communal.
When I was given the keys in October I could have cried – it’s a fresh start for both of us
On the day we arrived, there were four or five people hanging around in the front room, smoking weed and drinking – one of the residents and his mates.
It was disgusting, and stank. I couldn’t believe the council thought it was acceptable for a child to be housed with alcoholics and drug addicts.
I called the council and they said: “If you refuse it, you’ll be deemed to have made yourself intentionally homeless again.”
You have to stay there because the council send people to check. If not, you end up on the street again.
I told the addicts they had to smoke outside, but Macy struggled to sleep because of the noise at night.
After a couple of months, there was a big fight and the police came at 2am.
That group disappeared after that, I'm not sure if he was kicked out or just legged it.
Still, I felt trapped and no-one could tell me how long we’d have to be there.
It was impossible for us to socially distance, we were using the same kitchen and bathroom as strangers.
Macy was amazingly resilient, but she would say: “I don’t like it here – it smells” and ask when we were moving.
We coped by spending as much time in the park and with friends as we could, only returning to sleep there at night.
I wanted Macy's life to seem balanced, she visited her mum once-a-week but I couldn't have my baby daughter Lia to stay, it wasn't suitable.
When school started again, it was a challenge as it was two bus rides away.
It took an hour each way, meaning half my day was spent travelling to and from school and I was racking up bus fares of £100-a-week.
England’s homeless crisis
Some 253,000 people, half of them children, are homeless and living in temporary accommodation in England at the moment – the highest figure for 14 years.
A new report from homeless charity Shelter found the numbers seeking temporary accommodation rose by 6,000 in the first three months of the pandemic – and undoubtedly there will be thousands more sofa-surfing or sleeping rough who go unrecorded.
Temporary accommodation can range from a flat, to a hotel, to the kind of emergency room Mark and Macy had to sleep in, with shared facilities. The use of emergency B&Bs has increased by 371 per cent over the past decade.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “These figures should shame us all.
"With this deadly virus on the loose, 2020 has taught us the value of a safe home like never before. But too many are going without, because of the chronic lack of social homes.
“Many people will spend Christmas in grim, dangerous places, cut off from loved ones and faced with a daily struggle to eat or keep clean.”
Footnote: To support Shelter this winter and give hope to all living in fear of homelessness, donate at www.shelter.org.uk/donate #GiveHomeGiveHope
I started to lose hope. Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting in that horrible temporary accommodation thinking 'am I going to have to spend Christmas here?’
I felt like everyone had turned their back on us. I was trying to find a private rental but landlords don’t like having people who are on benefits, and you need a guarantor.
In despair, I called the Shelter Helpline. Speaking to them gave me hope – I felt like someone was listening.
They explained my rights and told me if the council ruled I was intentionally homeless they’d give me legal support to challenge it.
After nearly a year of being homeless, I was on the verge of launching a case – when I got a phone call to say I'd been given a council house on a newly built estate, five minutes from Macy’s school.
When I was given the keys in October I could have cried – it’s a fresh start for both of us.
We don’t have much – I’ve had to get secondhand furniture – but it’s home.
Macy has her own room and was able to celebrate her seventh birthday in our new place.
Once restrictions lift, she’ll be able to have playdates and Lia comes to stay once a week.
Macy’s been so excited about Christmas, and we had fun putting the tree up together.
It won't be a normal year, we'll be social distancing at Christmas dinner as my brother's partner is pregnant.
But it’s just an amazing feeling to be able to see in Christmas Day and the New Year knowing we are finally settled.
Dacorum Borough Council say:
"We have committed to provide temporary accommodation and prevent homelessness to anyone throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately there has been an increase of 283% in households that have been accommodated as homeless, with Mr Holland and his daughter being one of those. This has increased pressure on having to use shared homes.
"We are aware that some residents may have more complex needs and we will investigate any complaints to address these issues and keep our homes safe and secure. Mr Holland and his daughter have now moved to secure council tenancy in a 2 bedroom house after 5 months of temporary accommodation, this is in line with the current average stay in temporary accommodation which is approximately 6 months."
The council added DBS checks are not carried out on tenants.
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