A woman came into church looking for the Mind Drop-In. Tyneside Mind occupies a building in the church garden, but they don’t have drop-in sessions on Saturday, and they have stopped the ones that used to happen on other days of the week. So I gave her a cup of tea. Let’s call her Zena. I had never met her before.
Zena told me about some of her physical diagnoses which means that she is waiting for a wheel chair. She is going to need help getting around – someone to push the wheelchair so that she can get her shopping in. She has no family, and only one friend who pops in every now and then. She was younger than me, but looked 15 years older.
Mostly Zena told me about her problems with housing. She has lived in 3 different properties in the area in recent years, renting from private landlords.
She had to leave the first one (in my street), because it was going to be demolished. It is still waiting to be demolished. These are Tyneside flats at the lowest end of the housing market. I said I understood they were in a bad state. She was in the downstairs flat and a hole appeared in the ceiling. The people upstairs had to be careful where they stepped. The demolitions haven’t happened yet because an amenity group has been fighting to stop them coming down. They have romantic notions about working class housing. The boarded up flats have been vandalised and set on fire and just need to go now.
The next flat was in a modern development, very nice. She had to leave that one because of the landlord. Tenants are at the mercy of private landlords, especially when they go out of business, are made bankrupt, or decide to move on. The way landlords conduct business with others also matters – one lettings agent told her that they had to stop working for one of her landlords because they weren’t being paid properly.
She has suffered similar problems in the present flat. She discovered that the flat was up for sale and no one had told her. When she made a fuss, she was told she had no rights in the matter. When the flat was sold to another landlord, she elected to stay – she didn’t want to move again. She has been pleased with the way the new landlord has dealt promptly with maintenance problems. So at the moment, things are OK on the housing front. It is a two-bedroom flat, so she is affected by the bedroom tax and has to pay the top up.
Zena is a vulnerable, disabled, lonely woman. She needs help and is struggling to get it. Social Services say they can’t do anything. Nobody wants to know. All I could offer was a cup of tea.