What life is like Christmas when you have nowhere to live

Written by Natalie Gil

According to Shelter, 20% of households on the list for social housing are living in insanitary or overcrowded homes. Krystalrose, 26, tells the story of her struggle to make her flat safe for herself and her daughter.

After a year of economic turmoil prompted by a pandemic, this Christmas is going to be tougher than usual for thousands of households up and down the UK.

In the last year, 397 households in England became homeless every day, while a household in London became homeless every 20 minutes, according to the housing charity Shelter. Even before Covid-19, tens of thousands of people were living in temporary accommodation – and the number of households in that position has risen by 14% in the last year, the charity says.

Among the households on the waiting list for social housing in 2019, 237,656 (20%) of them were on the list because they were occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory conditions. With 2020 data as yet unavailable, it’s likely the pandemic has further aggravated the situation.

Krystalrose, 26, is among those living in such conditions. A full-time single mum to a two-year-old daughter, she has been privately renting a cramped one-bedroom flat in north London for the last 18 months. Shortly after she moved in, a leak from the flat above ruined all of her furniture and the property has been riddled with damp ever since.

Like so many other families, Krystalrose just wants a safe, dry, social home where she and her daughter can spend a happy, healthy Christmas. So far she says her council has refused to add her to the social housing waiting list, but she is striving to build a happy home for her daughter regardless. 

This is Krystalrose’s story.

I loved the flat when I first viewed it and it felt right at the time. This situation has taught me that not everything that looks beautiful is beautiful. Looks can be deceiving. After a few months, that’s when everything started to crumble.

The bedroom is too small for me and my daughter – we can’t fit our beds in it – so we sleep in the living room and I made the bedroom into a play area. One day I noticed the bedroom ceiling changing colour. It looked like a dark coffee stain above us. Then it started feeling cold and visitors said they could smell damp. Obviously, because I was living in it, the smell had become normal to me.

I sent photos to the landlord but she was away for a long time and didn’t come to assess the property while all this was going on. In the meantime, the living conditions of that room got worse – it was totally inaccessible for months. It wasn’t until it became unbearable to live in, months later, that the landlord actually sorted it out.

I experience depression and anxiety, so it made my mental health even worse. I felt very frustrated as a parent – not being able to access half of the building was unbearable. I was trying to protect my child, so she couldn’t wander around the property, which was frustrating for her as well.

I was in contact with the council while the leak situation was happening, but they took so long to respond and didn’t seem bothered about what was going on. By the time they finally did listen to me, the situation had resolved itself. As the summer came, the damp started improving. They basically fobbed me off and said there wasn’t a problem.

The council is refusing to put me on the waiting list for social housing. They said my situation wouldn’t count as “overcrowding”, because we have the bedroom and the front room, despite the fact that half of the property isn’t fit for purpose.

My daughter is smart. She knows there are problems with the property and that it’s not normal. When we go to a family member’s house, with a nice living room space where she can play with toys, there’s a difference in her behaviour. She’s happy, she’s free and she wanders about. When she’s home, she’s more on edge and gets worried if she can’t see me. She’s very clingy. 

I can’t buy her as many toys as I would like because there’s nowhere to put them – it’s not that I can’t afford to. We don’t have a living room where she has the freedom to enjoy being a child. She doesn’t have her own bedroom. There’s only so much that I can physically allow her to do in this flat.

This will be the first Christmas my daughter will remember. The tree is up and I’ve put lights up to get her excited. I don’t want her to remember, “When I was younger, I was stressed and in tears.” I want her to be as happy as she can be, so I’m making it as colourful and bright as I can.

We won’t be spending Christmas Day at the flat, which is a massive relief because that’s the last thing I’d want to do. We’ll probably go to my mum’s, who lives in the countryside. It’ll be nice to have some normality.

Waking up to my daughter every day gives me hope. It makes me feel like I have a chance and gives me a reason to keep going. I feel like as a woman, I have to fight for her. I have to make sure I get it in a better position for her because she’s totally dependent on me.

I don’t want to be dependent on anyone and I don’t believe I am. I’ve always been very independent. I’ve not always been unemployed. I’m a singer, I’m good with my hands and I’m creative. I had a few experiences before my daughter, and I’ve chosen to put my career on hold to bond with her and look after her in the best way I can. I wanted to give her my full attention because I know I won’t always get that time with her.

Eventually, I hope to have a suitable, stable home for my daughter. I’d love her to have a bedroom, a living room and space to be free. I want to be able to chase my career and develop more financial freedom. I don’t want to have to rely on the government, or on others who constantly let me down and give me anxiety. I want to be independent, I want to follow my dreams and be a good role model to my daughter. I don’t want her to grow up and have to go through what’s happened to me. I want to create a better life for her.

One day I’d love to help empower other women, other mothers who may be in my situation, who have been in my situation, or who might be in the future. That is my goal. To do better, to be better, and to be an empowered woman.

To support Shelter this Christmas, and give hope to all living in fear of homelessness, please click here #GiveHomeGiveHope 

Image credits: black and white photo by Denys Argyriou, photo of Krystalrose provided by Shelter

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