Guest post from Panna Simon
When I first came to The Salvation Army in 2012, I was 8 months pregnant and had just been made homeless. I had moved into a privately rented flat that had turned out not to be fit for human inhabitance. There was mould, severe structural problems, no heating and dodgy electricity. It was basically built on top of a garage. This was meant to be the place that I would bring my son back to.
I reported this to the council who condemned the property straight away but then wouldn’t help me with further accommodation because I was in-between an application changing from jobseekers allowance to maternity allowance. I worked really hard to find a flat and then was able to get some money together for the deposit. I moved in on the Monday. I went in to labour on the Tuesday. Just in time!
I presented this same story at an assembly organized by Redbridge Citizens, the local chapter of Citizens UK, before the local elections in May 2014. The assembly took place in our hall just after we had completed some renovations – it was actually the first event that happened after the works were completed, even before the official opening! Action came first, then we celebrated! And its important to understand this was not a hustings – it was a public negotiation. We set the agenda.
After I presented my story, the three candidates for Leader of the Council were asked if they would implement a Private Landlord’s Register to make sure other people wouldn’t go through the same experience I had. Our Corps Officer, Lt Naomi Clifton, was chairing the assembly, and she pinned them for answers. The result of all this is that the current administration has started to implement the register and we are working with them to make it more robust. I told my own story, and as a result of being an organised community, we got the commitment that we wanted!
Over the last year a half, through a number of different activities including our Babybank and Housing Legal Advice Clinic, I’ve spent time visiting with over 200 people who are experiencing different pressures on their life. One of the challenges for us is to organize them so that they act on their own interests, in the same way that I did in 2012 – instead of waiting for someone else to do it for them.
Panna Simon is a Soldier of Ilford Salvation Army, and works there as the Families Outreach Worker.