Preventing homelessness in Reading

Meet Sarah*

Sarah says she had a ‘normal’ upbringing (quickly adding ‘whatever normal is!’). She and her sister lived in a three bedroom house in Reading with her parents. She went to school and went on lovely family holidays.

Sarah became unexpectedly pregnant in her early 20s and gave birth to her first little girl. She quickly fell pregnant with a second child. During her second pregnancy Sarah’s boyfriend (the children’s father) was arrested and sent to prison for domestic violence. Life started to change for Sarah’s family. Social services and Berkshire Women’s Aid were now a part of her life, because of her boyfriend’s crimes. These agencies were happy with her situation as she was living in a stable home with her parents.

Home life wasn’t so straightforward though. When her second child was born there were seven people living in a three bedroom house. Sarah and her two girls slept in one room. Every time she needed to get to the wardrobe she had to collapse the cot. Sarah really wanted the girls in a routine, which was difficult to establish amongst the comings and goings of four other adults. She often felt undermined when it came to disciplining the children; if they didn’t get their own way with her they’d go to someone else in the house. She was getting depressed. She wanted to bring the children up her way and in their own home.

Sarah found a home for them to live in which was perfect. Her dad helped her out and paid the deposit. They moved in summer 2015. Sarah made the house homely and tidied up the garden. The girls settled well and they enjoyed a great few months. Then the council changed Sarah’s housing benefit. This meant she had to find an additional £300 to stay where they were. Sarah took this from her £470 monthly benefits, leaving her £170 a month for bills, food and clothing for her and the girls. Berkshire Women’s Aid helped out with food parcels, but there was more devastating news to come. Sarah received an eviction order because the land was due to be developed. She was only given two weeks’ notice – her eviction day was due to be Christmas Day 2015.

Sarah was referred to Launchpad’s preventing homelessness service (Floating Support) by Reading Borough Council. She looked on the website and her immediate thought was we weren’t for her; we helped the street homeless and people with drug problems. Sarah didn’t consider her situation to be that bad.

Sarah came in and met Alex her Support Worker. Sarah admits that she didn’t understand Reading Borough Council’s processes or the housing bidding system. The council had found Sarah emergency accommodation, a B&B in Slough. But this was a long way from her family, and because of her five year old daughter’s chronic health condition, Sarah needed access to a private kitchen and bathroom. It was the week before Christmas but Alex pulled out all the stops, working intensively with Reading Borough Council and Sarah’s daughter’s doctor to eventually secure her local temporary accommodation she could move into on Christmas Eve. Sarah went to view the property and her first thought was ‘it looks like a crack house!’ It had concrete floor, no curtain poles and the kitchen was thick with tar from smokers. But there was no better alternative.

Sarah didn’t want her daughters’ Christmas ruined by knowing they had to move. Launchpad had provided tickets for the Pantomime with Mr Tumble which the family really enjoyed and a kind Launchpad supporter had donated a double buggy.

Christmas Eve came and Sarah’s sister looked after her children all day at her parents’ house. Sarah and her mum spent five hours scrubbing the kitchen in the new flat clean. Then Sarah and her dad spent a further nine hours moving her belongings in and trying to make the house as homely as possible with the children’s things.

The three of them spent a couple of nights at her parents over the Christmas period before moving into their temporary home. Sarah had to pretend everything was OK and remain upbeat for her children’s sake.

Alex continued to visit and supported Sarah with her housing issues. It has been confirmed that the family can stay there long term. Sarah is looking forward to being allowed to put up curtain poles and curtains. Her aspirations for the near future are that, with both the girls at school and preschool, she can get a job. Sarah knows that she’ll be £14 worse off a month if she works, but she knows that getting a job is her next step towards a better future.

Launchpad’s preventing homelessness service

Floating Support is the national name for a service that prevents homelessness by helping people with a range of challenges. The service can be for anyone, including single parents, families, couples and single people. We help people find somewhere suitable to live. Those stuck in emergency B&B accommodation get help searching for long-term accommodation. We work to keep people in their home, by working with other local housing providers and landlords to avoid evictions. We help with benefits, budgeting and debt advice too.

We support over 200 people with the Launchpad Floating Support service, for between 3 and 6 months each. Our Floating Support aims to helping people settle down and achieve stability, to gain the skills, confidence and understanding to break out of difficult situations.

This help is available via a referral by Reading Borough Council or a probation or social worker. If you think you need this service, come to our Drop-in and we can help you to get referred.

* To help protect the privacy of those we help names have been changed