‘Without my dog, Jax’, Abbie said, ‘I would have killed myself, he was the only thing I had to live for.’
Abbie first became homeless when she fled domestic abuse a few years before. She resorted to using slum landlord properties and then, when she was beaten up by another tenant, sofa surfing wherever she could, and ultimately living in her car.
Abbie was being supported by mental health services in the community following previous suicide attempts and psychiatric admissions.
Abbie approached Bedford Borough Council and asked if they could help. Legally, there was an immediate duty to provide temporary accommodation, but none was offered.
The officer’s decision letter said that there was ‘no evidence of a severe and enduring mental illness’, in stark contrast to the many pages of detailed written evidence provided by mental health services. The officer went on to conclude that there was ‘nothing that significantly differentiates you from ordinary people’, as if Abbie losing her home as a result of horrific domestic abuse, being so mentally unwell that she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act twice and actively thinking of ways to end her life were simply things that were trivial, normal things that everone goes through.
So Abbie was left homeless.
Her Community Psychiatric Nurse was trying desperately to be of some help. But when your patient is sleeping in a car, waking up in an English winter with ice on the inside of the windows, CBT and all the anti-depressants in the world aren’t going to make much difference.
When Abbie’s GP found out she was still homeless, he wrote to the Council, reiterating the serious mental health issues she was experiencing, but the Council did nothing with this information other than add it to her file. Again, this failure to follow the law left her homeless.
So here she was, a few weeks before Christmas, being kept awake by the cold and the sound of footsteps outside her car, keeping out of sight so no one could see her, feeling utterly hopeless.
Her Community Psychiatric Nurse, after desperately trying to find some way of helping, heard about JustUs and referred Abbie to us. We were able to quickly re-approach the Council and lay out the obvious reasons for her being in priority need. From that point on it was pretty straight forward. Abbie was placed in temporary accommodation with Jax and she moved into her new home a few months later.
We raised the issue with the Council and they offered compensation, acknowledging the failures that were laid out in their own records.
We have written elsewhere about how low the threshold for vulnerability is, and how anyone who has experienced serious domestic abuse, has long-term mental health issues, has attempted suicide and has been admitted to psychiatric hospital under the Mental Health Act is very obviously vulnerable. Whilst Bedford Borough Council managers have made efforts to improve their service to homeless people, we’re now seeing less and less gatekeeping from frontline staff and more and more perverse ‘not-vulnerable’ and ‘intentionally homeless’ decisions of this sort.
So if you work with people who have lost their home, be prepared to challenge decisions like these.
Abbie’s name has been changed here, but the substance of her story remains true.