The role of our Private Rented Sector Access Scheme is twofold, to assist our clients into secure, accommodation, and to provide them with on going support. A significant proportion of our clients are former rough sleepers, a group who tend to be in particular need of intensive support in adjusting to life in settled accommodation, and for whom a sense of security is paramount. Once a client has settled in, and seems to be coping well, we will still keep in touch with the occasional phone call or visit to check that everything is OK.
One such client is Dave, who we found a one bedroom flat for in November last year. He had been through a very unfortunate combination of circumstances, forced into rough sleeping for almost a year. So he was overjoyed when we found him a very nice one bedroom flat in South London. He was full of hope and plans for the future and set about almost immediately applying for jobs, volunteering and a couple of months ago he got a place on a 16 week course getting practical experience and an NVQ in Social Work. He was very optimistic that this and the experience, skills and contacts he was gaining through his voluntary work gave him a good chance of getting a good job, and capitalising on successful career he had enjoyed for many years, before a series of unfortunate events left him with no other option than to sleep rough and try to survive as best he could.
So when I made a routine to call earlier this week nothing seemed to be amiss, and when Dave suggested that we meet for a coffee on Tuesday he gave me no indication that this would be for any other reason than a friendly social event, but he was in fact in a state of agitation. He had lost a lot of weight, was looking drawn, anxious and unwell.
Over coffee a shocking story emerged. Three weeks into the Social Work training, Dave had been informed by the Jobcentre that there were jobs going for Traffic Wardens in his Local Authority, and that they wanted Dave to apply, with the clear implication that refusal to do this could lead to his JSA being sanctioned. Dave attended a two week training course, and has been offered the job for 40 hours a week at £7 per hour.
He is supposed to be starting later this month, apart from funding his travel for the first month, no other support has been offered, Dave does not qualify for Housing Benefit run on as he is two weeks short of the 6 month qualifying period, although he has been on JSA for much longer.
His salary will be paid monthly, and so far he has been unable to get his new employers to give him a contract of Employment, so he cannot even resort to borrowing money, and will be effectively destitute for one month until he receives his first paycheque.
He has calculated that he will be £25 per month better off per month from working, he wants to work, but feels he has been denied the opportunity to obtain a qualification which would have enabled him to get a job he would have been well suited for, enabling him to draw on his considerable experience, skills and talents.
He also gave me a glimpse into the reality of life on JSA, after all of his deductions and bills, he is left with less than £20 per week to live on, despite being a very proficient cook, (he was a chef and then manager of a restaurant for many years), he exists mainly on rice, eggs, and whatever vegetables he can pick up cheaply. He has lost 9 kilos, and has started going back to the day centre who originally referred him to us, as he gets a hot meal and a cup of tea at a very subsidised price. He has walked all the way from Victoria to Kilburn to come and see me, as he cannot afford public transport, his months sleeping rough means that he is well used to walking miles, but he says now he feels so weak and ill he gets easily tired.
He has been feeling extremely anxious, and been prescribed anti- depressants , he is haunted by his experiences as a rough sleeper, and terrified that he will lose his flat and end up on the streets again. At almost 60 years old, and after a lifetime of working, paying tax and doing his best, he is struggling to come to terms with what has happened to him, and for me it has been a brutal awakening to the fact that finding accommodation for our clients is the beginning, not the end, of a process and they are in need of intensive support, which we do our best to provide.