Picture Perfect

Stuff that matters

A boy was forced to travel 170 miles a day to get to school due to a lack of social housing.

Little Issac got up at 5am, Monday to Friday, for two whole months so his parents could drive him to Birmingham and he could join in lessons with his classmates.

The 10-year-old stuck with the punishing routine for two months so he could get into lessons with his classmates.

“It was very tiring,” he said.

“I went to bed as soon as I got home at night then got up again the next day.

“We would wake up at 5am and leave at 6am in the morning. My mum and dad think education matters, so always got me to school.”

The family, who moved to Birmingham from Eritrea before Isaac was born, had sought help from Birmingham City Council.

Because there was a lack of suitable home they were temporarily sent to Manchester.

The ordeal ended when new temporary accommodation was found for the struggling family back in the city.

Campaigners in Birmingham have highlighted Isaac’s case as an exampled of what they see as the ‘broken’ welfare housing system.

Citizens UK Birmingham has condemned the fact that in the city there are more than 6,000 kids in temporary accommodation with their families while they wait for a precious family home to come free.

At the same time multi-million pound high rise developments flood the city, often with little or zero provision for affordable homes, they say.

Isaac’s Manchester hotel room was one of eight places he and his family have lived since he can remember.

“There have been four hotels and four temporary flats and houses,” he said.

His head teacher Victoria Rivett said Isaac’s experience was far from unique, with scores of her pupils facing arduous daily journeys to get into school because they rely on temporary housing.

“I am very proud of Isaac, he showed great resilience to keep coming in to school. But we should really not have children having to go through ordeals like this,” said Ms Rivett, who leads St Clare’s Catholic Primary in Handsworth.

Several more of her pupils also have to travel in from across the city and region to get to school, taking several buses or other complex journeys.

Often they have started at the school when living nearby, only to be moved into new temporary accommodation somewhere else in the region. Some have to give up and move schools.

“Just this week one family was moved to Wolverhampton and another to Walsall,” she said.

“The impact on children and their families of regular upheaval can be unsettling.”

She will join Isaac at a virtual gathering to press the case for change, alongside other members of Citizens UK Birmingham, a collaboration of community groups, charities, schools and faith organisations.

They want at least 20 per cent of all new developments to be ‘affordable’ – and say there should be an urgent commitment to create the 3,500 social homes for rent needed right now to ensure families like Isaac’s have a permanent home.

The event will also hear from 12 year old Aya, who will tell them of her gratitude to the welfare and asylum systems that have welcomed her family.

She will also speak of the daunting experience of being moved ‘from pillar to post’ since the family arrived in Birmingham three years ago as political refugees from the Sudan.

With her older brother Ahmed, 15, and two young siblings, she has lived at eight addresses since then.

Alongside the young advocates will be Brenda Wangari, a Master’s student at Aston University who experienced homelessness with her family when she was a teenager and said the trauma never leaves.

“I was homeless when I was a teenager, living with my mom and siblings in one room, so I understand what they are going through,” she said.

“For us it was very unexpected. One day we were at home, the next we were living together in one room. I was 15 – I knew there was a big problem here. We thought it would be a short time but weeks turned into month after month, waiting.

“It was scary, thinking we would be there forever. If you are on the waiting list you just don’t know if you are going to get a house. We were there from August and we finally got a house on December 23. It was a crazy time.

“People might think these things do not have a lasting effect – but it really does,” said Brenda, now 23.

“I hear the kids like Isaac and Aya speaking about their experiences – but I know they will not have told their friends exactly what they are going through and what is happening.

“They keep that part of their life private because they are afraid they are going to be judged.

“I worry about it even now, saying out loud, I have been homeless.

“But people need to hear about this. This is 2021, in the UK, we are a rich country – children need to have a permanent place to call home.”

Some 3,500 families are currently living in temporary accommodation in the city – around 500 in B&Bs and hotels, 600 in family homeless centres, 1,700 in council properties and 1,000 more in private leased homes.

The number of children involved is at least 6,000.

Gary Messenger, Birmingham City Council’s head of interim housing, said the city council did, on increasingly rare occasions, have to send families to accommodation out of the city and region but every effort was made to avoid doing so.

“We always work very hard to bring families back to the city. We are doing our level best for every family, but we are in the grip of a national housing crisis, being seen across the country.

“Our priority is to ensure the health and wellbeing needs of children and families are met. We would ideally house all our families here in the city, unless there is a legitimate safeguarding reason not to do so.”

He said council officers and staff saw the impact on families and children of uncertain housing, but there was a paucity of family homes.

“It’s very difficult for any child to be without a secure home. We work in collaboration with charities, with refugee organisations, and through our own support workers to help families. We have 100,000 families in temporary accommodation across the country. The need is extremely high.”

He said the council’s own family homeless accommodation and other council housing stock was increasingly supplemented by family homes leased from private landlords.

But these too were in short supply because of the impact of welfare caps on housing benefits.