The reality was that one unforeseeable event left him with nowhere to go (Picture: Getty Images)
He called from his car, which was doubling as his home. The heating had just packed in. He had just spent the last of his money on postage for his son’s Christmas present. And he was also ill and needed surgery.
Ian was calling Shelter’s emergency helpline as a last resort.
Aside from the gut-wrenching injustice of his situation, what made Ian’s call stand out was that he had done everything ‘right’.
He had owned his own business – had been comfortable and successful. He was not someone you would associate with being even close to homelessness.
But after a family member became ill, he was forced to reduce his work and could no longer afford his mortgage.
The reality was that one unforeseeable event left him with nowhere to go: out of money, out of petrol, and out of hope.
Ian was calling Shelter’s emergency helpline as a last resort (Picture: Getty Images)
As a Shelter helpline operator, I contacted the council, arguing that they should provide him with emergency accommodation. Thankfully, our advocacy was successful, and he was placed in a hostel that night.
It wasn’t a home, but it was a start. And for the first time in months, things began to look up.
When I answered Ian’s call, I had been working on the helpline for just three months.
Prompted by a period of reflection during the pandemic, I had moved from London to Sheffield to take a job that would have a positive impact.
Ian’s call was one of the earliest I handled, after weeks of intensive training from exceptionally talented and dedicated people.
I couldn’t begin to guess the number of lives these calls saved each year.
Callers like the disabled father being cared for by his young children, living in a home with no heating and sewage coming through the floors. Or the mother who was sleeping with her children on the floor of her office.
I couldn’t begin to guess the number of lives these calls saved (Picture: Jenny Lamb)
There was also Kelly*, a young pregnant woman who called in May 2022, terrified of sleeping on the street after being made homeless when her parents asked her to leave.
Despite her clear need for emergency accommodation, the council told her they had no duty of care.
After I called the council to argue her case, she was placed in temporary accommodation, but she had no control over the heating. The cold flat meant that her baby, who was born with a heart condition, was unable to keep warm and became sicker and sicker.
It took months of arguing, but eventually the council finally relented and moved her and her baby into more suitable accommodation.
In this role, I realised that while helping people at crisis point is incredibly important, no one should be in situations like these in the first place.
Currently, there are 309,000 homeless people in England today, an increase of 14% in just one year, including a record number (140,000) of homeless children, according to new research from Shelter.
This figure is a direct result of an over-reliance on overpriced private renting, and a failure to build genuinely affordable social homes. If we are going to end homelessness, we need systemic change, and I wanted to be a part of that.
Out of money, out of petrol, and out of hope (Picture: Jenny Lamb)
More from Platform
Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.
Find some of our best reads of the week below:
Metro’s resident wedding agony aunt Alison Rios McCrone dealt with another issue this week, with a bride-to-be shocked at her mum taking issue with how intense she was in planning her nuptials.
Emily Vaughn shares her truly harrowing story of being groomed and trafficked from the age of 14, and how she rebuilt her life after being forced to have sex with over 1,500 men.
When Celia Chartres-Aris was given a brilliant new job, she thought telling them about her disability would be just a formality – but in fact her job offer was withdrawn when she told her new employers about the adjustments they would have to make.
After decades battling a stammer following childhood trauma, things reached a breaking point for Jonathan Blair, who had been so ashamed of his speech impediment that he hadn’t even told his wife about his condition.
That’s why, after two years working for Shelter’s frontline services, I moved to the charity’s policy team, where I now help influence government policy to end the housing emergency.
In July, the Social Housing Regulation Act became law after six years of campaigning by Shelter and Grenfell United, amongst others.
This landmark legislation should ensure social tenants have homes that are fit to live in, and that nobody’s life is put at risk – as happened at Grenfell, and the tragic death of Awaab Ishak in Rochdale, who died because of illness related to mould in his home.
More recently, after three years of advocacy, the Chancellor announced that Housing Benefit will be unfrozen from April 2024, meaning more families can afford their rent and fewer people face homelessness.
Now my work revolves around the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by the Renters (Reform) Bill, and ensuring the Bill is as strong as possible to protect renters as it passes through Parliament.
Losing a private tenancy is the leading cause of homelessness, and this legislation could revolutionise the security and safety of the 11million private renters in England by banning unfair no-fault evictions, which allow landlords to turf out tenants without reason.
While there have been big wins for housing over the past year, we still have a long way to go to ensure nobody spends winter in a grotty hostel or a freezing car like Ian once did. Though I’m happy to say he is now in his own flat, and he has his life back.
With the help of our generous supporters, we will keep fighting the housing emergency on all fronts – both through legislative change, and by picking up the phone to those who have nowhere else to turn.
It shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly it is. And until we have real change, Shelter will be here for people like Ian and Kelly no matter what.
*Names have been changed
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The reality was that one unforeseeable event left him with nowhere to go.