Westminster struggles to deal with homeless. (Image via Shutterstock.com)
‘My daughter asks, “Mum, why don’t we … move this house so it’s closer to the school?”‘ says Hanane Toumi, 34, her eyes reddening with tears.
Hanane, a single mother of two young children, has finished her four-hour cleaning shift. But now she must hang about around Edgware Road until the end of the school day of her children Salsabile, 6, and Waleed, who turned three yesterday.
Huddled into her thick jacket as she tries to protect herself from the unusual cold, Hanane, talks about how she remembers arriving at Edgware Road tube station for the first time after leaving Morocco in 2005. She used to live close by. But when Hanane’s British husband left her and the children in 2011 she no longer had the right to live in the family home, which was registered in her husband’s name.
Westminster City Council quickly moved the family into temporary accommodation; first in Hackney and now, on a three-year fixed tenancy, in Brent. She has a two-bedroom flat overlooking the giant Ikea store on the North Circular Road.
Her new home is better than the temporary house in Hackney but it is so far from the life she had established in Westminster that every morning she must wake at 5.45am to prepare for the five-mile rush to drop her children off by 8.30am and then go on to work.
She usually arrives late at her job in Kentish Town. Office administrators, while understanding, have already given her two warnings about her time keeping.
‘I’m running. Everyday I’m running,’ she says, pulling down on her beige and mauve-spotted headscarf.
Despite some offended looks from fellow passengers, a flustered Hanane sometimes has to change Waleed’s nappy on the bus.
Hanane has tried to register her daughter in a school in Brent but was told it was already full. Nearby nurseries, Hanane says, cost more than what she pays in Westminster and start at 9am, meaning Hanane would never make it to work.
She was already in poor health and has had operations on her kidneys, but now is suffering from poor sleep and is losing her dark hair from stress. Hanane also complains that a young male recently struck her in the eye as she was returning home with the shopping. The next day, her eye was visibly swollen.
‘This is London,’ responded an officer from Westminster’s Housing Service Office when told of the assault, Hanane claims.
Hanane finds her monthly salary of £647 barely adequate, even with an additional child tax credit of £274. Her weekly nursery bills alone cost £140, leaving her little from her monthly salary, but she says every penny counts in her struggle to feed and clothe her children.
Since the family moved to Brent, Hanane claims that her daughter has started falling asleep in class and has even wet herself in public. One senior teacher at Hanane’s daughter’s school has told the council that the young girl’s behaviour has changed and that the daily commute has had an impact on her education and emotional welfare.
‘You have made my daughter like that,’ Hanane told Westminster City Council.
Hanane claims Westminster officers have recommended she find work closer to home but that is easier said than done. ‘I don’t have any qualifications and I don’t speak good English… How am I going to find another job?’
Her future looks unrelenting after Westminster rejected Hanane’s request to review her Neasden placement in February.
‘Given the age of Ms Toumi’s children I do accept that travelling from Neasden to school would not be ideal,’ wrote a Westminster housing review officer. ‘However, having considered the children’s age and level of schooling, I do not see any reason why they could not attend an alternative nursery and school.’
The housing review officer rejected Hanane’s claim that travelling to school, nursery and work – over 100 minutes each way – was grounds for relocation.
‘The nearest bus stop is located… a 7 minutes walk from [her home],’ the document reads. ‘It would then take 47 minutes to travel by bus to [Hanane’s daughter’s school] and a further 2 minutes to travel to [Hanane’s son’s nursery]. According to the TFL website, Ms Toumi would then have to travel a further 45 minutes to work.’
With review options exhausted, Hanane knows she has little hope of being returned to her former home.
‘England is still good but Westminster makes me suffer,’ says Hanane.
In a written statement to the Bureau, Cllr Jonathan Glanz, Westminster Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing said, ‘increased demand, coupled with an endemic under-supply of housing across London has resulted in more households coming to us as homeless’.
‘In an ‘average’ month we would accept the responsibility to house about 30 households. We are now accepting around 80 each month. As a result, we need to find temporary accommodation for more people and this sometimes means looking outside of Westminster.’
‘In Ms Toumi’s case, we were able to find a property that suited the family’s needs close by in a neighbouring borough,’ City of Westminster said in a statement to the Bureau.
‘It is certainly not our policy to encourage a worker to leave their job due to the location of their temporary accommodation. In fact, we actively encourage people in temporary accommodation to obtain work and households in work are given higher priority for permanent housing.’
‘When housing people, we need to ensure that they can afford these properties under the new benefit regime and the property that Ms Toumi now occupies is much more affordable than a similar sized property in Westminster. More affordable properties will allow families to enjoy longer and more secure tenancies.’