The Daily Telegraph

Mean streets

I’m 55, with a good ca­reer… and home­less

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I’ve had a pretty suc­cess­ful ca­reer. I’ve writ­ten ar­ti­cles and col­umns for mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers for 26 years; pre­sented a TV se­ries and cre­ated an­other; and now have a pod­cast and two ra­dio shows – one of them on the BBC.

So maybe you’ll be sur­prised to read that I’m not writ­ing to you from a chichi study in my beau­ti­ful Heal’s fur­nished home; but in­stead from a ta­ble next to my bed in a scuzzy rented stu­dio flat, wait­ing for the land­lord to fix the faulty wash­ing ma­chine I told him about six weeks ago. (I’ve stopped men­tion­ing the mould and bro­ken win­dow frame.)

For a decade, be­fore mov­ing into this flat of dreams, I was one of Bri­tain’s “hid­den home­less” – stay­ing with friends, fam­ily and strangers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment’s Hous­ing Sur­vey 2018-2019, there are two mil­lion adults “sofa surf­ing” and liv­ing in “con­cealed house­holds” in Eng­land, and that was be­fore the coro­n­avirus cri­sis struck.

From March that could be me. I’ve been asked to leave my flat. I will be home­less again. At 55.

Let me un­pack this story for you. I worked hard from the age of 18 and, at 35, with no help from Mummy and Daddy, or a part­ner, I bought my own flat in north London.

Af­ter five happy years liv­ing there, a neigh­bour moved in who would swear down the in­ter­com at 3am and ha­rass me on the street – and then my Dad was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer.

My poor brain just wanted out. So I stupidly sold the flat in­stead of rent­ing it out, and banked the profit to use as a de­posit on the next place I bought.

But there was no next place. In­stead, there was the 2008 re­ces­sion. It took my ca­reer as a free­lance writer and my fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity.

With work dry­ing up and big grief (Dad died as the re­ces­sion hit), I ended up liv­ing off the flat prof­its – and found my­self back in the world of rent­ing: where a one-bed flat in London (then) cost £1,200pcm.

I re­lo­cated to Manch­ester but missed my home city too much, so I re­turned to London where the av­er­age rent for a one-bed flat was now £1,500pcm. How could I af­ford that?

I stayed with a friend for a few weeks, then at my brother’s girl­friend’s for five months, af­ter which I found a flat­share. But I moved out af­ter a year, when the land­lady rented the other room to a man she had met in the Post Of­fice.

And on it went. In 10 years I moved 30 times; 19 in an es­pe­cially de­light­ful 24 months. I slept on a stranger’s sofa, and stayed in spare rooms be­long­ing to friends of friends.

Once I had to pack up and move out mid­week, as said ac­quain­tance de­cided she didn’t want her boyfriend in the flat with me. In an­other – a flat with sy­ringes in the bath­room – I had the joy of a man I’d never met walk­ing into my room as I was naked in bed.

The high­light, though, was the damp, dis­gust­ing room I viewed only to be told I would be shar­ing the only bed with a stranger: “He works through the nights… so you’ll hardly see him.”

I had owned my own home. I had worked in­cred­i­bly hard to own my own home. And now I had noth­ing. I was noth­ing. Sur­viv­ing like this – fire­fight­ing ev­ery day – de­stroyed my self-worth, de­stroyed my men­tal health, de­stroyed my life.

Have you read about Maslow’s Hi­er­ar­chy of Needs? It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal five-tier model of hu­man re­quire­ments.

And the ba­sic needs – the needs we have to have to sur­vive and thrive – are food, wa­ter, warmth, rest, se­cu­rity and safety. I had two of them. Even writ­ing this now makes me cry.

Some of my re­la­tion­ships haven’t re­cov­ered from this time. I watched a home­less man on TV once, ex­plain­ing the worst thing about be­ing home­less.

“Peo­ple start to re­sent you,” he said. “They help and then think you’re tak­ing advantage.” He’s right. Some peo­ple helped me, beau­ti­fully, and some helped me and then pun­ished me for tak­ing their char­ity.

Three years ago, I moved to gor­geous Hove and started again. I had never stopped pitch­ing and writ­ing – I might not have in­her­ited money when my par­ents died, but I got their great work ethic – but now I spread my me­dia wings and started broad­cast­ing more.

A new place, sta­bil­ity, some reg­u­lar work gigs build­ing up nicely. I’d been knocked about by life, but I was back. And then…

And then Lloyds bank de­liv­ered quite the sucker punch. In a move I can­not un­der­stand, my bank de­cided I wasn’t han­dling my ac­count prop­erly – de­spite that month clear­ing a third of my over­draft and work com­ing in – and closed it. With­out dis­cussing this life-chang­ing de­ci­sion with me first.

As one of their em­ploy­ees told me, “they pulled the rug from be­neath you”. I com­plained to the Fi­nan­cial Om­buds­man and my next move is to take them to court.

I’m hop­ing I can pay my le­gal team in kid­neys.

Now my credit rating has been wrecked un­til I’m 59. That has taken away any chance of ever own­ing my own home again – and of com­ing off my an­tide­pres­sants.

And if that isn’t hor­rific enough, I now have to find some­where new to live. How? Prospec­tive land­lords will do credit checks (I guess I could pre­tend to have a heart at­tack to dis­tract them) and pay­ing six months’ rent in advance (the al­ter­na­tive) will be tough now that coro­n­avirus has gob­bled up many jobs.

So what am I go­ing to do in March? (Ac­tu­ally, De­cem­ber. De­spite be­ing legally pro­tected by the Covid laws, which say that no ten­ant can be evicted un­til March 2021, my land­lord keeps send­ing me texts in­sist­ing I leave be­fore Christ­mas.)

How can I start again? I feel anx­ious, hope­less and help­less – and wor­ried about my age. Home­own­ers have se­cu­rity, in­vest­ment, some­thing to sell if they have to pay for care. They have mort­gages that de­crease as their earn­ing ca­pac­ity falls.

They have sta­tus and safety. Me? I have a his­tory of work­ing seven days a week and great hair. That’s it.

To­day I was asked what I am go­ing to ac­tu­ally do about my hous­ing sit­u­a­tion. And I ac­tu­ally do not know. But I am de­ter­mined to do some­thing to shine a light on peo­ple like me.

Peo­ple who have found them­selves with nowhere to live, of­ten through no fault of their own.

I sup­port the home­less char­ity Glass Door, and took part in its an­nual (so­cially dis­tanced) “sleep out” at the week­end to raise money and aware­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to Glass Door, home­less­ness is pre­dicted to rocket be­cause of the eco­nomic fall­out of Covid. The forth­com­ing re­ces­sion will re­sult in many peo­ple hav­ing their in­comes slashed and hav­ing to sur­vive in the hand-to-mouth way I’ve had to for years.

You’ll be sur­prised at who will need help: peo­ple like you, if the de­pres­sion is as fierce as feared and your bank isn’t the lis­ten­ing kind. If it can hap­pen to me – it can hap­pen to any­one.

My credit rating has been wrecked un­til I’m 59 – how can I start again?

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 ??  ?? Hid­den home­less: Bibi Lynch in Hove, East Sus­sex, feels ‘anx­ious, hope­less and help­less’
Hid­den home­less: Bibi Lynch in Hove, East Sus­sex, feels ‘anx­ious, hope­less and help­less’

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