My thoughts on Housing Day 2015

First published November 2015

As I sit here thinking about what I am going to say regarding my experience as a tenant of social housing and Housing Day, I am both grateful that I have a safe roof over my head for me and my children, but at the same time I am deeply disturbed by the beating our sector has taken over the last few years.  The successfully orchestrated demonization of social housing tenants and benefit claimants has been beautifully politicked by our government.  I have felt an unpleasant mood shift within our society – an utter distain for ‘those’ people who are living in social housing and in receipt of benefits.  These so-called people (myself included) have all been tarnished with the same brush as scroungers and benefit cheats.  The inconvenient truth is that the majority of people in receipt of housing benefit and tax credits are working families.  Housing Day provides tenants and landlords a platform to stand up and counteract the negative media’s portrayal by telling the positive side – Housing Day is an opportunity to repaint the story so to speak.  When I wrote my Housing Day story last year it was a pivotal moment for me; it freed me from the shame I had attached to my circumstances.  It opened my eyes to the need of such a platform that showcases the many success stories and the profound differences social housing has made on people’s lives and within their communities.

I attended a music concert in Oxford last Friday and as I was paying for my parking ticket there was a young female huddled up in the corner trying to brace herself against the cold night setting in.  I reached into my purse and handed her some coins and looked into her eyes and told her to stay safe.  I felt so inadequate in that moment – inadequate but also grateful that I had somewhere warm and safe to return to at the end of the night.  The other feeling I experienced was shame – shame that I couldn’t do more, shame that my country wasn’t doing more, and shame that there is a growing apathy within our society that somehow it is her fault for her circumstances.  I don’t know her story, but I know mine and when I found myself a single mother of two boys living in social housing on benefits I was full of gratitude but also shame from the fear of the harsh and unfair judgment of others.  It was never my life goal to be a cliché and be reliant upon welfare and I have felt a deep sense of shame surrounding my circumstances. I encountered my first Troll on Twitter last week who questioned the #proudtenant hashtag I was using – this person said living off of other people’s taxes and the government is not something to be proud of and that I should instead be grateful.  I am exceedingly grateful I am not homeless with my children sleeping on the streets, or fleeing a war zone, however; the use of the word ‘proud’ to me is the opposite of shame, which is what I felt before I told my Housing Day story. 

The lead up to Christmas is my favourite time of year and my children are beginning to get excited with all of the rituals leading up to the day including; school activities, concerts, Christmas lights being switched on, our tree going up, the decorations, family, meeting Santa and of course presents.  As the nights are getting darker and colder, I can’t shake the stark reality that many people within our society don’t have the luxury of a safe, clean and secure, warm roof over their heads this Christmas time.  Shelter predicts 100,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. I can no longer standby silenced by shame or turn a blind eye in feigned ignorance.  Housing Day has enabled me to own my truth, and has been the catalyst that has opened my eyes to the responsibility I have to use my voice to speak out and to stand for something.  Mahatma Ghandi said: "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

I believe we can collectively make a difference if we stand up and tell our stories and start to change the conversation.