Town hall forced to use ‘last resort’ methods to deal with housing crisis
PUBLISHED: 07:38 25 July 2018 | UPDATED: 07:38 25 July 2018
Dagenham mum Chelsey O’Shea remembers vividly breaking down in tears distraught the day council housing officers told her she was being moved to Southend.
She was being sent 30 miles away from family and friends, her daughter’s school and the area she had lived all her life. She had not seen the flat and was facing the complete unknown.
Today, the Post can reveal Chelsey’s family is one of more than 1,000 homeless households moved out of Barking and Dagenham - as the council tries to cope with the bitter housing crisis in the borough.
“I had no choice but to take this flat,” says the 25-year-old former cab office worker. “Otherwise the council would have dismissed any duty to house me.
“But I do feel let down by the way they disregard people, ‘Oh chuck them up in Southend, we don’t have to deal with them anymore’.”
The Post’s Hidden Homeless investigation has shown:
■ 1,122 households were placed into temporary accommodation outside the borough from 2012-17, many miles away from jobs, schools and vital support networks.
■ A substantial number of these - 30 per cent (326) - were moved out of London altogether to areas such as Thurrock and Basildon in Essex.
The council says it was one of the last of London’s 33 boroughs to resort to the tough measure of placing people in temporary accommodation out of borough.
It also enforces a policy of sourcing properties no more than an hour away from Barking and Dagenham, and total numbers moved out are smaller than some neighbouring councils.
In Redbridge 3,700 households have been uprooted and in Newham 3,200, with some families sent as far away as Birmingham.
The council is also embarking on one of the biggest house building programmes since the Becontree Estate was created to increase affordable homes in the borough.
But they will come too late for those already caught up in the crisis - such as Chelsey and her two kids.
She and her partner were evicted from their rented home in Dagenham Heathway when the landlord wanted to sell-up.
No longer able to afford rocketing rental prices in the borough despite both being in work, they were forced to seek help from the council.
Chelsey was one of 167 households that year placed into homeless hostels by the council and she lived in one room with her kids at Riverside Hostel in Thames View costing £350 a week.
“I was there just shy of two years,” she says.
“It was ok, but I just felt very watched, always on edge. I didn’t feel comfortable. Telling people you live in a hostel is quite embarrassing, it’s degrading.”
She says the hostel was clean and well-run and the people there formed close knit friendships.
But the stress of housing insecurity ultimately contributed to the breakdown of Chelsey’s relationship with the kid’s dad.
She believes the housing crisis has been exacerbated by immigration into the borough, saying she has seen the social mix of Barking and Dagenham change since she was at school.
“People are allowed to come over here and use the NHS and housing and benefits,” she said. “We’re giving away our funds to people from other countries and because of the amount of people in the country, there are not enough houses for everyone.
“People who have lived here all their lives are going through the struggle of just being housed.”
The financial burden on the council of paying for temporary accommodation for the homeless is huge.
Last year the town hall shelled out £19million to house homeless households in temporary accommodation and figures have spiralled by 67 per cent in five years.
Rent at Chelsey’s new flat in Southend is around £580 a month, and it will be more affordable for her when she returns to work in the future.
Government figures show 1,876 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation in Barking and Dagenham in 2017-18, the 16th highest figure in London.
Across the capital the figure is more than 54,000 and the scale of the crisis is pushing councils to make tough choices.
However Chelsey is seeing the positives of her move to Southend two months later.
“I wasn’t happy at first but they have given me a decent flat in a nice area, so I’m just starting a new life with my children,” she says. “Compared to the hostel this is amazing, it’s like a palace.
“It’s a lot quieter than Barking and Dagenham.
“I feel a lot more safe and it’s by the beach.
“At first you just think of your friends, family, schools, everything that seems important, but those things can be easily changed and it’s not as hard as you think.”
NEXT WEEK: Council leader sets out his vision for a housing revolution in Barking and Dagenham - as he admits ‘my parents were sold the dream of buying their own council house but now see the impact of the lost 48,500 homes’