Eighteen months ago, I found myself unintentionally homeless with a newborn baby. I had no other options but to turn to my local council for help. Seeking aid from the government or council has been deeply stigmatised for decades now. We have all encountered some type of propaganda that aims to vilify the poor, from the headlines accusing the ‘underclass’ of committing benefit fraud or having multiple children to access more money or housing and many of us have probably swallowed that as truth. I can’t help but think that these distorted sentiments lived in the minds of the staff who worked at my local council office whenever I was there.
From my own experience and from what others have told me about theirs, there is a ubiquitous feeling of apathy from the staff. It is as if those of us who come seeking help - many at the lowest points in our lives with nowhere else to go are not only an inconvenience but all our unique cases must be looked upon with intense speculation and scepticism. Obviously, the lack of available council housing means not everyone can be helped-which is a problem within itself, but the interactions I have witnessed and been a part of at the council office highlighted microcosmically the callous indifference felt towards those of us who are the most disenfranchised from society.
When I first came to the council I was asked to bring in documents to support my homeless case, including proof of identity and my eviction letter, as well as proof that I had lived in the borough for a certain number of years. I was told that someone would be in contact with me but they couldn’t say when. I never received an email or phone call.
I can recall on one of the days I was left waiting for hours to be seen by the housing officer, a woman arrived with her son in tow begging for help because she couldn’t return to her home after some kind of domestic abuse situation with her partner. The staff initially denied her help because she had arrived late in the afternoon, which made them believe her situation wasn’t as dire as she was suggesting. Then security was called when she said she wasn’t leaving after they told her there was nothing they could do.