‘All of a sudden I had nothing’ Councillor speaks of her homeless experience

Councillor speaks about her homelessness
Councillor speaks about her homelessness

It WAS the most horrible time of her life, but an Edinburgh councillor is hoping to use her personal ordeal to help tackle the Capital’s growing issue of homelessness.

Leith Walk Green councillor Susan Rae was a victim of robbery and abuse during her six-month stint without a home, and lived in the same building as some people who had turned to drugs and prostitution.

Susan became homeless after her temporary contract as a personal assistant came to an end, and with no job, in tandem with the financial crash, she was left without a home.

She said: “I was working and had a roof over my head and all of a sudden I had nothing. It was frankly terrifying. You are entirely at the mercy of the state and people who process forms. If they make a mistake, it can destroy somebody’s life and it’s a really uncomfortable ­feeling. You feel really powerless and when you’re made actually homeless it is a very frightening feeling.”

Life on the streets started in the worst possible fashion for Susan when her shared accommodation on Hopetoun Crescent was targeted by vandals.

“On my first day people were attacking the building and then a few days later my laptop and phone were stolen by a man who was living in the same building as me,” she said.

In 2016-17, the council says 3,386 households presented as homeless, while the average homelessness case length had increased from 109 days to 303 days. Susan’s life was full of uncertainty and she stayed in three different B&Bs – each having a different experience in store for her.

She said: “If you don’t have a home you don’t really have a proper life. You can’t have family or friends round and the social aspect goes. You have no security and it means your whole life is undermined.

“You live in constant fear – fear of someone not liking you, someone not doing the forms properly.”

Her second property was in Hill Street and she was kicked out by her landlord after she told a council meeting about an unwritten curfew.

She said: “We had no freedom as we were under such strict rules. A curfew was in place so if you were not in by 10pm you were locked out. You weren’t supposed to speak to other residents, and there were no facilities in your room.

“We also had to leave at 8am and not come back until 4pm, due to cleaning apparently. I mentioned this in a council meeting and when I returned, the owner of the property told me to leave.

She added: “This is one thing people don’t understand about being unemployed or homeless, it’s exhausting. The entire responsibility is down to you. You’re expected to be sharper than a lawyer when realistically you’re struggling to get through the day.”

Council bosses paid nearly £1 million for 15,362 night’s worth of extra bed and breakfast accommodation last year because of a shortage of accommodation for homeless people.

Although the council has contract arrangements for around 400 B&B places across the city, an increase in demand meant an additional 100 B&B places were obtained outside any contract – which means they are not subject to the same property inspections or health and safety checks.

Susan said: “The amount of money we spend is ludicrous, especially considering the service provided is frankly outrageous. It has got out of control. The council is paying £340 for a single room and £440 for a double room.

“Edinburgh has a general housing crisis and that can’t just be solved that by building more houses.”

Susan is part of a new Homeless Task Force set up by the city council to which will aim to end the use of B&Bs as temporary accommodation.

Susan said: “We have an average of 170 applications submitted for one property across the city. In better areas we could be seeing more like 400-plus. The problem we have is immediate: 50-60 people are sleeping rough and winter is here. Three people a month are dying on the streets, but that figure is staying the same.

“The system hasn’t improved. It’s gradually eroded. More people are becoming homeless. I want the task force to do ad hoc inspections and be part of the homeless call line so other councillors can see the impact the system is having on people.

“The task force has to be open to change and have some teeth. My experience will give an insight into how the system works and I am hopeful that we can make a difference.”