Before we were properly ‘in the car’, and realised we were running low on money, I had phoned the local Council.
I explained the situation, and wanted to know if they could help me with getting into any sort of housing list, or help me finding any affordable temporary housing.
The guy on the end of the phone told me that they didn’t, and that we were intentionally homeless.
I didn’t argue with him, I agreed.
This was a situation we had chosen, but I was wondering what help there was out there for us. We were fast falling through the cracks, and we were worried about being jobless and penniless. We had chosen to leave our situation, but we hadn’t chosen to end up living in the car.
‘Where are you sleeping tonight?’ He asked.
‘On the beach. Or in our car.’ I answered honestly.
‘Oh. Well I’m sorry but we can’t house you at the moment.’
He referred us to the Job Centre, and explained they may be able to help with our money situation. This was all before Ryan found a job, and now we had some time to go into Plymouth together. We decided to try the it.
We got an appointment with an older lady, who asked us what we were doing to seek work. I explained that Ryan had a job, but we were hoping to secure a crisis loan or similar to help us find our feet until we could afford to do so ourselves.
At the weekends we had been coming in and I was looking for a job locally, but it was all online and it was hard to get a computer to work on.
The Job Centre has a small computer room, but it was only open at certain times of day, and only for a few hours each time. You had to put your name down to use the computer, and it worked on an appointment system. If you missed your appointment or were late – you would lose your computer time and would have to come back another day.
We’d be allocated 30 minutes internet time, and only allowed to use the time to search for work. It was a tiny little room with about 6 computers in, and some guy would walk behind us all checking that we weren’t checking social media of wasting time.
The room was so small that we couldn’t get two chairs at one computer, so Ryan had to wait outside. No one was allowed in unless they were on a computer. I shrugged and went in to look for some jobs.
A foreign lady next to me was trying to bid on council properties but was getting confused with the reading, so I leant over to help her out.
‘ Excuse me!’ The Computer Room Guy suddenly barked.
‘ Focus on your own computer please!’
Jesus. This is like a bloody prison I thought, and peered back at my computer. The jobs available were all requiring an online application, which would take 45 minutes or thereabouts.
I looked back up at the sign on the wall that said in bold letters
‘ 30 Minutes Computer time ONLY.’
Fucks sake. How is anyone meant to help themselves like this ?
I had to apply for 5 jobs a week to get any money through, but could only get to the job centre at the weekend to use the computers here.
I excused myself and left.
We had an appointment with a woman to talk about a potential back payment of the Jobseekers Allowance we’d applied for. She told us there was an issue with the application and that she’d talk us through it shortly.
I explained I was struggling to apply for the right amount of jobs because I could only get here at certain times.
She looked at me over the rim of her glasses, and I could feel the disapproving glare coming from her. She seemed tired of me already, and I’d only just sat down.
‘You are to apply for more than 5 jobs a week. Five is the minimum.’
‘ I know – but I’m struggling to find 5, let alone apply for them as I can only use the computer for 30 minutes.’
‘ Don’t you have the Internet at home?’
She said it as though I was stupid enough to not realise I had internet access at home.
‘I don’t have a home.’ I said ‘ I’m living in a car.’
‘ Without a fixed address you won’t be eligible for any benefit.’
Oh. I thought. I didn’t know that.
‘Nothing ? ‘ I asked.
‘ I’m afraid not. And as you are intentionally homeless the council won’t help you either.’
She sounded patronising, and I wondered why none of these people understood the reality of the situation. She wasn’t talking to me as though I was a person, but more like a chore that she wanted over with.
Yes – I am aware that we chose to come here. I know it was a rash decision, but we felt there was no option. We couldn’t save up our money because my Dad was taking it. We couldn’t miss rent because he would throw our things on the driveway – something he’d done before. It was humiliating. He was hard to live with and we were miserable. I felt I had to explain it to everyone but no one would understand, unless they’d lived it.
We couldn’t rely on our friends, because they had their own lives. Sofa surfing wasn’t an option – we didn’t want to be a burden on anyone else. Especially people we loved.
And now we were far away from them, from anyone we knew – and every time we were asking for help it was being refused.
I didn’t want a hand out, I wanted a hand up.
She looked from Ryan to me, and pursed her lips.
‘ So there’s no need to apply for the benefit then.’
And she ripped up the application form infront of us.
I was gobsmacked. I’d spent ages filling that out, cramped in the car, trying to fill in each of the boxes neatly and clearly.
And she’d just ripped it up infront of me.
The Job Centre lady excused herself and Ryan and I fell straight into a whispered conversation about what just happened.
She came back over to us, and handed me a piece of paper.
I looked down and read the title of it.
It had the various times the soup run was on. Where it stopped off, what was available. How much it cost. The places were all in the city centre. And only began at 10pm. It carried on until 2am.
‘They do pasties as well..’ She said.