How benefit sanctions left me sleeping on the street

When you become homeless, you’re not back to basics, you’re at the bottom

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The Independent Online

I was only sanctioned once, but there was no warning. I’m still angry they did it. I was in the middle of the sanction when my eviction notice came. When you’ve had your own property for 14 years, to be suddenly kicked is a total shock, and I had no way of rectifying it, no matter how much I tried.

I was a swimming teacher. The last job I had was fantastic, but the school closed down. I signed up to an agency but there wasn’t enough work and the hours just fizzled out. For three months I didn’t sign on. I was getting an hour here and there and was surviving on that, still trying to pay my rent. I always thought it would pick up. I thought: “I can do this, I can do this”. And I could have, given the chance, but it just wasn’t there.

I lost my job at the height of the recession and getting work was impossible. When you’ve never been out of work for more than four weeks, to be out of work for three years - trying every day, applying for 50 or 60 jobs a week, and not one person responding - well, it’s difficult.

I was on the Work Programme and missed a couple of appointments, the first because I didn’t realise I had one, the second because I wasn’t well enough to go. When I went to my next appointment, the advisor told me I’d been sanctioned.

I had no money to pay for anything. I was borrowing here and there from friends to get food and pay bills. I thought to myself: “I’ve got enough debt as it is – now I owe people I know money”.

Those two months were a real low moment. You’re just trying to get your basic human needs: food, water, and somewhere to stay. It’s practically impossible to think about anything else. I wasn’t well – just worried.

Sanctions aren’t motivating. You can’t say taking something away from someone is motivational. You only get your money every fortnight anyway, and you have to make it stretch as far as you can. Sanctions just add another pressure. Even if you do get a job interview, you can’t travel to it unless you can borrow money. It de-motivates you. And you get people shoplifting, because they can’t always go to a food bank. It becomes a case of survival.

I couldn’t pay my rent during that time, and when you have that gap where everything stops, you’re constantly playing catch up. Losing my home, it happened - it wasn’t something I let happen. And it ruined everything for me, it put me on the street.

It was winter, and I got kicked out without even a chance to get my stuff. All I had was a quilt cover and a pillow. It was just horrible - not being able to take your clothes with you, not being able to wash and feel healthy in yourself.

Then there’s the rain. I borrowed a motorbike cover off a friend but when it rained hard it would just go straight through. I had to leave all my stuff because it was soaked and it smelt. The smell is embarrassing, you feel conscious of yourself, the way you look, the way your clothes are. Trying to find somewhere to have a wash and clean your clothes was so difficult. I couldn’t go into a laudrette and do a Levi’s ad and sit there in my pants while my clothes were washing.

There are things you take for granted – having a fridge, being in your own house, doing your own thing. I’m not really a materialistic person, I just need somewhere to be safe. And you take that for granted sometimes. You forget, you really, really forget. When you become homeless, you’re not back to basics, you’re at the bottom.

By this time next year, I may not have my own place, but I will have a place - even if it’s just a room. Somewhere where my son can come and see me, and plug in his Xbox and have fun with his dad. I want to have work, no matter what work it is.