“For lots of people it feels like the system is set up for you to fail. In a perfect world, someone with power will see this and realise that something needs to be done.”
We spoke to Ellie shortly after she had moved from Evolve into her own independent accommodation In Peckham. However, just a few months before that, her situation was very different.
“I was at another supported housing provider, but they were not good. I was supposed to have a key worker but they never gave me one. There was no heating for months, the water kept going off, and they were getting decommissioned. I needed to find somewhere else to go, but I couldn’t. I went to viewing after viewing for private rentals, but it wasn’t working out – I was told I wasn’t passing references, that I wasn’t earning enough and that I didn’t have a guarantor.”
Ellie was connected to a possible solution – an independent housing block managed by Centrepoint. However, she needed to be working full time to get it, which brought a range of problems.
“I told them I was nervous because when you are in supported housing you get housing benefit, and you lose that when you get a full-time job. The second you go full-time your benefits get cut off, and you can end up in arrears. I was told to do it anyway – I did, and next thing you know I’m in debt. The housing I had lined up then told me that they couldn’t take me while I was in arrears, even though I told them that would happen.
It was so overwhelming. I was then actually told to sofa surf until I got out of debt, but I ran out of places to go. For two months I was giving away most of my money to cover the arrears I had built up.
Luckily Evolve ended up having a place available, so I got put there temporarily while I sorted things out.”
Ellie worked hard to pay off her arrears while staying with us in Lambeth, and became eligible for the accommodation she had originally been offered.
“If it wasn’t for Evolve, I would have been street homeless. I wouldn’t have been able to take the next step to where I am now.
Evolve gave me the opportunity to take a breath and plan. My support worker Shona connected me with foodbanks, and helped with other ways that I could save money. Evolve is the only place I have been to where the staff seem experienced. They get it, and they talk in a way that shows they understand what we are going through. I felt really supported. I could go to staff with a problem and a solution would actually come out of it. I’ve never met someone like Shona before in this industry.”
When we asked about whether she thinks supported housing – and the systems around it – work, she had this to say:
“Supported housing depends on where you get put. I have lots of friends in the system and it varies a lot. Each place has different rules. I have been living by myself since I was 16, I’m now 20, and going somewhere with lots of invasive rules, managed harshly, can feel very patronizing and stifling. But then, without clear rules then people may behave badly and you may get arguments and bad behavior. It is a difficult line.
A big problem is how employment and benefits work together. If you make the effort to get a job, you will quickly lose your housing support. Because supported housing is expensive, this often means you lose money and go into debt. For me, the only way I could have started working full time without going into debt was if I was homeless. It wasn’t an option to go home, and it isn’t for a lot of people, so what are we supposed to do?
I think that unless you have a young person in your family, or you’re surrounded by younger people in their twenties, it’s hard to see what’s happening. I don’t think people realise how alone some young people in London are. There is huge pressure, conflicting advice, and I feel like we are not being heard.
Having got out of debt, moved into a new place and begun to start a life in fully independent housing, Ellie has some ideas about what comes next.
“In terms of my careers, I have figured out where I want to be and what I am doing. I work for a charity, and we support young people into digital careers and training. I originally went to that charity for help, but now I work there – I have a job and a stable income. I want to get my driver’s license and live just out of London, still doing this job. Maybe longer term I might want to work for a homelessness charity.”