Since mid December my daily tweet fics have been about people living in temporary accommodation, waiting for proper housing. The escalating crisis of people, especially families, being placed in bed and breakfast rooms for long periods, seems sharper than ever in winter.
The press has been full of articles about people in temporary accommodation and using food banks – people who have jobs, people who had stable lives and steady income before something rendered them homeless. The landlord evicted them for no reason, as the current law allows ; someone in the household lost work and the mortgage got swiftly into arrears; income was lost because of chronic illness or injury or cancer.
Some housing solutions are creative – people in Cornwall being offered tents, people in London being placed in adapted shipping containers. But this is not a joke. You don’t go camping in winter. Living in a “tiny house” is not fun when you didn’t choose it and you have kids. And staying in a bed and breakfast with the whole family, week after week while you try to keep up with the kids’ homework and your own job, is not a holiday.
So my stories are fiction, but they’re based on real life. And the housing crisis can’t be fixed by temporary accommodation, only by structural changes to how we rent or own homes, how we borrow money, our access to credit, our access to education and work. The first step would be to provide decent long term social housing and to fund that provision from central Government. Good access to high quality social housing lifted many Britons out of poverty in the Sixties and Seventies, while free higher education raised aspirations and earning power.
If we don’t restart that journey now, what are we saying about our population? How dare Government decide that vital services be cut in favour of spending on a two year legal battle with our trade partners? How dare Government decide that current provision is good enough and that the market, or charities, can sort out housing problems?
Stories about housing often spike at Christmas. But I’m keeping mine going. Let me know what you think.
Info: these are tweets written to the #vss365 prompt which provides a daily word to be included in your story. A vss, very short story, must fit within a tweet, so within 280 characters. True microfictions!
She always wanted to live by the sea, but not like this – two streets back from the seafront in a Victorian terrace converted to B&B. Her room is right under the roof, and seagulls thud across the slates all night, screaming. #Sleep is thin, days are full of fret. #vss365
“It’s a #bridge into permanent accommodation,” says the housing officer. She squirms.
Sami says, “It’s a shipping container. With windows.” The woman says nothing. She’s just as stuck.
Sami adjusts the baby on her hip. “Just for two weeks right?”
She shoves her head under the cold tap. Her hands, blind, wrench the water on. Her #hair streams into the sink and towards the plughole – she whips it aside. The freezing water isn’t great, but it’s better than leaving the B&B with a scalded head. #vss365#buildsocialhousing
The Minister paced her sleek office opposite Big Ben. Her PA appeared, bearing letters from constituents and thinktanks. More complaints about homeless numbers. More #buildsocialhousing bleats. She waved him away. Why were these people still flogging that dead #horse? #vss365
Bad news, her landlord is going to #push her off a housing cliff into the wilds of the Kentish private renting market. On the plus side, maybe her next landlord won’t ban her from making curry. #vss365#buildsocialhousing
(That one was inspired by a Kent landlord who told his tenants they were not allowed to cook curry. He’s now evicting everyone.)
The first two days, the B&B is an adventure. “Let’s all sit on the bed and eat tea!” After a week the kids can’t be persuaded it’s fun. Doing spellings homework on the windowsill only #teaches them that life isn’t fair -accurate, but they’re so little. #vss365#buildsocialhousing
She stands in Asda looking at Pot Noodles. She’s no #chef but has it really come to this, her hot meal option? No toasters in the room, no Foreman, no slow cooker. The hall exudes chipsmell. She sighs. It’s half hilarious – she really misses cooking. #buildsocialhousing#vss365
She goes to the kids’ park on the seafront and lies down on the #slide. It vibrates in the wind – relaxing, like a massage bed. She lies there, avoiding the B&B. She knows the council really wants to help but that actually makes it worse. #vss365#BuildSocialHousing
When I was a kid we’d see a tramp by the cemetery. He slept, Mum said, under hedges. He wore rough clothes and in my memory he looks like Wurzel Gummidge, #straw and all. Now cemeteries and parks are locked, where would he sleep? Nowhere he’d want to. #vss365#buildsocialhousing
The shower is in a homemade #cage as if the landlord worries about her smashing the frosted glass screen. Surely a new screen costs less than this iron garden gate? Surely a cage should feel safer than this shared bathroom with its scraped-thin bolt? #vss365#buildsocialhousing
She’s numb. How can she, a person with a job, have lost her home? How can it be right for the landlord to just end her tenancy – to leave her with nowhere, no deposit for a new place? In six short weeks she’s on her #knees. #vss365#buildsocialhousing
Evenings are the worst. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one there. She takes the long route home from work, through crowds heading out for a #drink, but still when she gets back to the B&B there are hours to fill. She reads, as slowly as possible. #vss365#temporaryaccommodation
She always plans to conserve money and #eat well. Even with just a kettle. But tinned bean salad costs the same as a latte and two hours in the warm cafe, away from the B&B and the knowledge that there’ll be no tea tonight. #vss365#temporaryaccommodation
This week is the hardest. Every surface in the material world shrieks at her to #indulge. She has to make it to payday. But after a frenzy of entreaties to spend on gifts and food, now it’s “treat yourself – you deserve it.” How cruel that #poverty tells her she doesn’t. #vss365
He had a Mars bar off someone at work. Breakfast was his usual, toast eaten standing by the window of the B&B. Lunch was pasta heated in a mug of boiling water – not much to #celebrate. But tea, tea was toast with cheese, and that Mars bar, and that made it Christmas. #vss365
The electric goes off, mysteriously, every night at 11. The landlord shrugs, knows nothing. People in Syria are being bombed, she thinks. I have shelter, clothes. I can #live with this. But the darkness blooms, and in her head, incendiaries flare. #vss365#temporaryaccommodation
Let me know what you think – I love to hear from you!
22/01/2019 at 20:17
Wow. What a powerful post. I read an incredible book called Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City recently. It really opened my eyes to issues with housing, landlords, evictions, and more.
22/01/2019 at 20:30
Oh, my, Sef. These are poignant. ‘Knees’ I think was my favorite in that we, most of us, live no more than one serious event away from being right there on our knees, too. Well done.
23/01/2019 at 00:36
My favorite was #bridge. I also liked #knees. My dad was in the military and at times we lived in questionable housing, but it was temporary. Once, I think it was some sort of barracks turned into family quarters for a month. Even so, we knew it wasn’t for long, and could turn it into an adventure unlike what’s happening to these folks. Thanks for your care and concern as you continue to raise the plight of the homeless, past the holidays.
03/04/2019 at 16:26
Thank you! I’m glad you liked these short fics. -Sef