Reposted from 12-05-15 from my old blog which I’m merging. The content has not been edited. People with bipolar disorder are at a higher than average risk of becoming homeless for many reasons but this advice is for anyone.
Sometimes you just don’t have somewhere to live. It could be just you, or it could be you and your whole family. You may have pets, and belongings to try and find storage for. You might just have the clothes you are standing up in.
I don’t want to trivialize what can be one of the most stressful times in your life. I have been homeless six times since I was fifteen. I know the sense of powerlessness and panic when a council official refuses to help you and I won’t trigger it by describing it in detail. I will write other articles about other aspects of this process, but I wanted to start at the most urgent point: How to declare yourself homeless, and what to expect throughout the process.
Firstly, go to your main local council offices (not the community one), usually to the general enquiries desk, and tell them that you need to declare that you are homeless and have nowhere to live, and to apply for a council house.
They will usually not ask any further questions at this point, and normally they will just give you a ticket. When they ask for your address, give them your most recent address, but reiterate that you are now homeless. If they try and fob you off by directing you to the internet, calmly tell them you don’t have the internet because you are homeless and you need help today because you’ve got nowhere to sleep for the night or any time in the future.
You will be asked to take a seat until someone can see you to speak to you in more detail.
Next, you will be called to a desk to speak to someone. They will go through a list of standard questions. If they don’t ask you about it, you must inform them if you are pregnant or disabled, and also if you have left an abusive partner (but only if you’re female and heterosexual). This gets you priority emergency shelter so please do tell them.
They will usually then go through your options. You won’t have many. They will sometimes put you on the council housing waiting list for a council house there and then, although in some areas this is a separate process. They will tell you where you can get emergency housing, for example if you have left an abusive partner, they should phone around the local womens’ refuges and find you a safe place to stay. If you have left an abusive parent, they are generally a LOT less helpful, despite the fact that you are probably more vulnerable, and in my experience they just direct you to the local homeless shelter and don’t even bother making any other enquiries. In a lot of areas this is the same if you are LGBT and leaving an abusive partner. If you are a man leaving any kind of abusive partner, don’t expect any help either. As you can see, they’re generally not committed to helping the most vulnerable members of society.
Don’t be picky if they do find you somewhere to stay, it won’t get you into a house quicker, it will just annoy the people with the power.
Homeless shelters usually open their doors AFTER 5pm but you generally have to line up and wait outside them long before that to get a bed, and you might get turned away. Your belongings are at risk and hygiene is usually very poor or non existent, worms and other parasites are prevalent despite the best efforts of volunteers. If you are trying to keep a job, it is virtually impossible to get a bed at a homeless shelter, so weigh up whether you could afford to do something else such as book into a hostel instead.
While the council has a duty to house you, I have consistently been told there is a 6 month wait on emergency housing everywhere in the UK that I’ve been made homeless. I don’t know if they just say that to discourage you. I would suggest approaching this whole procedure with the end goal to get a council house, not to get shelter for the night, and unless you have children with you, I would recommend sleeping rough in the majority of cases because, provided you do it right, it’s less degrading than queueing at the shelter to be turned away at the last minute, and you’re more likely to come out of it with less of a damage to your self confidence which has probably already taken a pretty big hit from losing your place to live.
If you have a social worker or community care team, inform them too (unless you’re under a Community Treatment Order, in which case consider carefully whether you just want to disappear off the radar at this point and maybe move areas because they might hoik you back into hospital for breaking the terms of your CTO if you’re not residing at the same address), they might be able to help you.
You have a legal right to go on the housing list in any area of the UK once you have been made homeless, but bear in mind some places such as anywhere in London have approved byelaws which mean they refuse to house you if you don’t have a direct relative in the area (cousins and aunts don’t count) and haven’t lived in the area for a period of time, usually between 6 months and 3 years. A general rule is that the further away from London you go, the easier it is to get rehoused.
I will discuss your other options in my next article tomorrow: How to sleep if you’re homeless.
I will also do a checklist of things you need to do once you’ve been made homeless.