The Cardinal Hume Centre is well known as a local refuge for young people escaping a life on the streets. The Centre's hostel offers them sanctuary and a chance to turn their lives around. But the Centre's sense of duty does not end there, and with Cardinal Hume's Benedictine ethos guiding its work a warm welcome is offered to all who are in need. Since the Centre was opened in 1986 it has continued to develop to meet the growing need in our community; and unfortunately a growing number of households risk homelessness due to a lack of affordable housing. The housing benefit cap and pressure on local authorities to house an increasing number of homeless households can lead to temporary housing solutions which are costing councils' money and creating excessive stress for the families involved.
From accommodation which is damp, dirty or overcrowded, to properties which are located many miles away from the family or individual's work, school or support network, the temporary accommodation provided by local authorities can be a grim alternative to sleeping on the streets for those on the brink of homelessness. At the Cardinal Hume Centre our housing advisors work closely with clients who have been placed in unsuitable accommodation, advocating on their behalf for a better outcome. Jemila Macauley and Natalie Smith are the Centre's Housing Support Officers and they are seeing an increasing amount of complex cases. As Natalie describes, We are seeing children being taken into care because of lack of housing, parents who are looking for work being unfairly sanctioned and having to survive on the Foodbank, and families moved away from everything and everyone they know.
Jemila is currently working with Shirley, a mother of two, who first came to the Centre when she faced eviction from her home. Her landlord wanted his property back, and Shirley was liable for the court costs. Despite having a stable job, Shirley couldn't afford the court fee and she was unable to find a deposit for a new flat. With nowhere else to go Shirley risked being made homeless along with her two children. Jemila worked closely with Shirley to draw up an affordable repayment plan for the court costs, she also reassured Shirley that she would be able to receive council support if she was deemed to have been made unintentionally homeless. As Shirley has two dependent children the council would be obligated to find temporary accommodation for her and her family while they assessed her case. Shirley and her children were placed in an emergency hotel while Housing Options assessed their application. The hotel was overcrowded and without access to their own kitchen and laundry facilities it was a poor substitute for a home. Fortunately, Shirley and her children were able to leave their emergency hotel room after four weeks, once Housing Options had found them an alternative home.
However, the Stage 2 accommodation being offered by the council was in Essex. Although Shirley was extremely grateful to have been housed by the council the distance between her place of work and her children's schools was two hours each way, totalling four hours of travel per day, for both mother and children. Shirley's travel alone cost the family £100 per week. Inevitably, the move had a negative impact on the family as a whole. Shirley works as a Senior Respiratory Specialist Physiotherapist, and is responsible for clients within the Westminster catchment area.
She began to be late for work, despite leaving hours earlier than usual; and her children became tired and distracted at school. Her teenage daughter, who was already receiving social services support for behavioural issues, found the situation increasingly difficult, with access to her Westminster-based social workers significantly restricted. The stress of the situation has taken its toll on Shirley, and she has been signed off work for four weeks with depression. Jemila has helped her to submit a suitability review to the council requesting alternative accommodation based on the problems above; and Shirley now has to wait for 56 days before a verdict will be issued. Jemila is confident that Shirley has a strong case, and is ready to challenge any negative outcomes.
Working with families at risk of homelessness is a difficult job but the Cardinal Hume Centre's Housing Support team are passionate about fighting on behalf of the vulnerable; and thanks to their dedication more people like Shirley will be able to find the support they need during extremely difficult times.