The city's hidden working homeless: Carer and his partner living in fear of going back to ‘hell on earth’ B&B
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Jonathan Landau-Litewski, from Edinburgh, was evicted from his rented flat after being pushed into debt when he had to fork out hundreds to repair his car.
The 33-year-old says things quickly spiralled for him and his partner, Lee, after they racked up three months of rent arrears.
Forced to sleep in their Corsa in a city car park while they waited for help, they were then pushed from pillar to post after being offered accommodating in a series of Travel Lodge hotels and finally into a room in a B&B.
The pair both lost weight after living on a makeshift diet consisting largely of cheese toasties made with the help of an iron. But the toll on their mental health has been more severe.
Lee suffered a breakdown in the guest house where Jonathan says the couple also suffered homophobic abuse. He hit rock bottom.
On top of a day job as a home care worker Jonathan is also now carer to Lee, 29, who was forced to quit his job after the couple’s ordeal left him struggling to cope.
Mr Landau-Litewski said: “Living in a room in that guest house was hell on earth. We experienced homophobic abuse. It was awful. I washed our clothes in the shower and all we ate was cheese toasties made with an iron.”
“I got to the point I was feeling suicidal. But I thought who would look after Lee. I couldn’t go through with it.”
Mr Landau-Litewski has continued to work as a carer through the pandemic, while being moved around temporary accommodation.
They are not alone. Many low-paid workers are struggling to keep a roof over their heads due to rising rents, experts have warned, and carers are among some of the hardest hit.
The couple are now living in temporary accommodation in a serviced apartment by Edinburgh City Council, while Jonathan pays a fifth of his wages to keep their stuff in storage.
While they are relieved to have a roof over their heads the couple worry about the future. They could be turfed back into B&B accommodation again – and face a minimum two to three–year wait on the housing list.
And they can’t afford to go back to renting in the capital, where housing costs have shot up 25 per cent in three years.
Mr Landau-Litewski said: “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to go back to renting. We just can’t afford it, especially now I’m the only one earning a wage. And carers are not paid well. I get £10 an hour.”
Figures show the number of people in temporary accommodation skyrocketed during the pandemic. Meanwhile, more homeless people are having to live longer in temporary accommodation across the country.
As of May 1, there were 4,874 in Edinburgh assessed as homeless but only 2,919 households in temporary accommodation provided or commissioned by the city council.
Mr Landau-Litewski added: “For 16 months we’ve been homeless, living hand to mouth. We were supposed to be out on 1 September but they said we can stay a bit longer. It’s horrendous. We’ve had people telling us we’re not really homeless because we’re not out on the streets. But not having a home takes away your dignity.”
“Lee has just shut down. I am not coping either. His depression is so severe he barely gets out of bed. I’m so worried about him. I just don’t see an end to this. People get dumped and left.
"I’m so angry with the lack of help. The council don’t seem to consider the impact on people’s mental health.”
The proportion of homeless people who suffer from mental health conditions has more than doubled since 2013, figures show, in a rise described as “shameful” by politicians.
Miles Briggs MSP for Lothian said: “The situation with Jonathan and Lee demonstrates the housing crisis in Edinburgh. It’s unacceptable that they have been left in limbo by the Council.
“The price of a home in Edinburgh is getting close to London levels, with many people simply being priced out of the market.
“SNP Ministers have underfunded Edinburgh City Council for 14 years and most recently short changed the Capital when allocation funding for new build affordable housing.
“We need more affordable homes in the capital so that people can have a safe and permanent home to live in.
“I have secured a cross-party summit on homelessness but we need action and understanding that Edinburgh is facing significant additional pressures on housing which need innovative solutions.”
Cllr Kate Campbell, Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Convener, said:
“Housing and homelessness are some of the biggest challenges facing our city. With only 14% social housing we have around ten percent of households - that would be in social housing in another part of the country – in the private rented sector. And we have the most expensive private rented sector in Scotland. This undoubtedly contributes to the high number of people who are waiting for permanent social housing, and the length of time people have to wait.
“But because we’ve had a significantly increased number of households to accommodate, alongside reduced homes becoming available for let because of the pandemic and people being unable to move, we have seen our costs for temporary accommodation go up during this time.
“When people are in temporary accommodation we want it to be as high quality as possible. We’ve been working since 2016 to procure more temporary furnished flats to replace B&B and other types of less suitable accommodation. We have almost 750 additional temporary flats, 200 of which we procured during the pandemic. We also have plans to bring on hundreds more over the coming months.
“We are determined to prevent homelessness and to support vulnerable residents as much as we possibly can during what is a very traumatic period for anyone.”