Jenni has lived in social housing for 23-years, after being made homeless when she was 19. She has lived with depression for a while but over the last two and a half years her depression has significantly worsened as a direct result of poor housing conditions and lack of appropriate support from the council. She shares her story with us to explain why she’s behind our latest housing campaign. Jenni lives with her son in east London.
My depression has been the worst it has ever been over the last two and a half years – because of not being able to get anywhere with the council and living in no less than squalor.
I find it hard to do day-to-day things. I wake up in the morning and I’m still panicking about it when I go to sleep. The psychologist allows me to talk about my situation, and it is helpful for that moment, but they can’t do anything to change the housing situation and so when I leave, all my worry and panic about my housing comes rushing back.
"When I leave, all my worry and panic about my housing comes rushing back."
I don’t even think it should be called social housing anymore because they don’t have social events or forums or meetings to improve the situation. There is no support at all, and I’m often stuck at home.
My psychologist referred me to a support group with other people with mental health problems, and I get involved with something different for a few hours a week. That helps, but it’s a lot harder in winter because I’m stuck in the house all the time. Especially since my housing situation has got worse it makes me anxious about going to the group - at times I come up with excuses not to go because I get really anxious, even though I do feel less isolated when I get there.
For two-and-a-half years I’ve been fighting with the council to come and redo the flooring and the heating – it’s so cold in my house. Finally two months ago a council surveyor came and looked at one room, but that’s after I had spoken to eight or nine different surveyors, and you find out there is no communication and so you have to go through the same story over-and-over again. Their hands are tied as they have to go back to the council who will agree or disagree if it costs too much. Each time it costs me additional money.
Another example is that my front door is not safe at the moment. If you put any pressure at all on it swings open. I phoned the council up and the surveyor told me I needed a new door, then I had to wait four weeks for them to come and measure a new door, then another six weeks because I was told the council surveyor who came, didn’t work for the council anymore. Then I was told that regulations had changed and so it was another eight weeks. All of this to fit a door which doesn’t properly shut. Surely that should be a priority? Both an MP and an advocate have had to get involved to sort this out!
I keep getting nails and splinters in my body because the flooring is so poor and needs to be changed. The living room is so bad that I can’t have family or friends come and visit me so it gets lonely and isolating.
"The living room is so bad that I can’t have family or friends come and visit me so it gets lonely and isolating."
I have two young grandchildren who I want to see and want to visit but they shouldn’t have to go into the kitchen – they should be able to sit down and play.
The complaints process is very hard for people with mental health problems to navigate, because it’s stressful and because you are given a number and passed around from person-to-person. My son lives with me and he helps me a lot but I feel like I’m taking his life away as he is now 33 years old. Even with both of us trying to get the ball rolling together, we don’t get anywhere. I have wanted to move but they have no smaller allocations in my area in London and when I was offered somewhere it was up North – Manchester or Leeds but I have no family up there, or anyone. I can’t take the pressure anymore, and I’m frightened to speak to the council because of the stress. I’ve even had suicidal thoughts over my housing situation. On top of this is the constant threat that I could be kicked out at any time, so this stops you saying what you really want to say. If your face fits, if you know the right words to say you’ll get somewhere but if you don’t and you can’t articulate, you forget and it doesn’t come out how you want to.
"If your face fits, if you know the right words to say you’ll get somewhere but if you don’t and you can’t articulate, you forget and it doesn’t come out how you want to."
This is why it’s so important that we raise awareness of this issue. I’m not asking for the world, or gold - all I want is somewhere decent and safe to live. Social housing should be a secure space for those of us who need it. I really hope that one day we’ll be able to get the home that we so desperately need and want. But at the moment for me and my family this is just not the case.
Find out more about Mind's campaign on social housing and how to get involved here.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.