Special report: Homeless banker hits rock bottom

One day you're riding high with a business to run, the next you're on the street

Meet Kevin, an investment banker who used to run a firm on Wall Street, and Lee, an entrepreneur who had his own engineering business. On the face of it they'd have little in common with Nick, a bus driver, and Patricia, a grandmother battling breast cancer. But all have lost their homes in the past few months and are among a growing number of people who least expected to end up with no permanent address.

Every two-and-a-half minutes someone in Britain is at risk of losing their home. Bankers, business leaders and working families alike can face joining the ranks of the homeless. And with most Britons struggling to cope in a post-recession economy, millions of people are little more than a few pay packets away from losing the roof over their heads. Their plight is captured in a Panorama documentary, "Britain's Hidden Housing Crisis", to be broadcast on BBC1 this week.

As more people become homeless and fewer homes are built, tens of thousands of families are living in temporary accommodation, often in squalid conditions. New figures released by the Government last week revealed the number of homeless families living in bed and breakfast accommodation in England has risen by more than half over the past year. The total number of families with children accepted as homeless has risen by 12 per cent in the same period to 8,820.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "Stagnant wages, the rising cost of living and out-of-control housing costs mean that more people from all walks of life are struggling to keep up with their rent or mortgage.... It's easy to think of homelessness as a person sleeping rough, but the reality is that rising numbers of families don't have a permanent roof over their heads."

Behind the figures are people who have lost almost everything. Take Patricia Taylor, a grandmother with breast cancer who sobs as she admits, "I never thought I'd get to 52 and be homeless." She fell behind with the mortgage on her house in Dagenham, Essex, after her husband left her three years ago. Then she had to stop work after being diagnosed with cancer last year and her debts grew to £9,000. Ms Taylor offered to pay the bank the £37 a week interest out of her benefits but they decided to repossess her home.

When she was evicted in August, she says, it was "the end of an era", adding: "I shouldn't be sleeping on other people's sofas; I should be in my home, which is not my home any more." Despite being haunted by the "devastating" experience of being evicted and feeling as if she had "done something wrong", Ms Taylor remains upbeat, saying, "There's a light at the end of the tunnel."

Life was good to Kevin Browne. The 54-year-old investment banker once lived in an expensive flat in London's Kensington before going to the US and running a firm on Wall Street. Then came the crash of 2008, and he lost his business, marriage, and eventually his home. Mr Browne had to rely on a charity to fly back to Britain earlier this year. It took several weeks before he could register as a resident in Croydon, and in that time he survived by going to soup kitchens and sleeping rough in the park.

After a stint at a hostel that was "a mad house", where someone angered by his snoring threatened to slit his throat, he was eventually found a place in a shared flat in Streatham, London. He never saw homelessness coming: "It's a bit like being the Thanksgiving turkey, who has no reason to think tomorrow won't be OK because the kind farmer has fed him every day of his life. So he assumes he will continue to be fed, but, one day, Thanksgiving comes."

For the Storey family, losing their £500,000 home was the end of a dream they had worked for years to achieve. Lee and Sharon Storey bought their home in Redbridge, Surrey, 10 years ago and had no problem paying the mortgage until Lee's engineering business went under last year. He told The Independent on Sunday: "You don't think that it can happen to you, but after spending years building a business I found my family on the homeless register, and the business failed, in a relatively short space of time."

The bank repossessed their home in October. The weeks before were difficult. Sharon Storey said: "Some days I just want to walk away and not look back". She was determined to shield their two daughters from the stress and moved them to her sister's house the day before the eviction. On the day they handed over the keys to their home, she said: "I feel a bit numb." The Storeys are now staying with their in-laws.

Another person featured in the documentary is Nick Bull, a 43-year-old bus driver who has lived in temporary accommodation with his wife and four children since they were evicted from their council house earlier this year after falling behind with the rent. The family spent several months living in a one-bedroom flat in Croydon, and are now living in two rooms in a hostel. The stress of being homeless is summed up by Liam, their seven-year-old son, who says: "My mum keeps breaking down." In a heartbreaking scene, he is shown cuddling his sobbing five-year-old sister.

The stories are a shocking reminder that homelessness can strike at any time. Almost 150,000 homes have been repossessed since 2009, and more than 51,000 households are living in temporary homes.

Panorama, airs on BBC1 on Thursday at 9pm

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral