15th September 2017
This blog was written by Margi Isaac, one of the founding members of VOICES. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.
“I felt as though I was going through a thick, impenetrable fog every day. Having to trust those advising me even though I understood little of what they were saying to me. My children were terrified of being homeless and having to send our pets to the RSPCA – they still have nightmares about it now”
I am sixty-seven years and eight months old as I write this account of my experiences where housing is concerned. I experienced fifty-five years of domestic abuse and violence. Indirectly as a child witnessing my dad’s abuse of my mum, and directly within two abusive relationships spanning seventeen years; including thirteen years of marriage within the first relationship and twenty-four years (including twenty-three years and nine months of marriage) in the second relationship.
I experienced the connection between housing and domestic abuse while growing up within social housing, as a private owner within the two marriages and again as a social housing tenant with my two children.
Apart from pressures to forgive and stay through my Christian faith (through the general teaching that God hates divorce), we were far from family and I could not face my children becoming homeless. When I was trapped within domestic abuse the help available – advertised in newspaper reports and television programmes – somehow went over my head. All my energy was consumed by ‘walking on eggshells’ daily in an attempt to keep myself and my children ‘safe’.
I had married my second husband in April, 1987 believing he was ‘safe’ (survivors can miss warning signs with new partners, particularly if they are abusive in different ways) and left December 2009, after I was offered a private rental from friends and I felt safe there surrounded by church ‘family’. Moving into my friend’s accommodation also meant that I could take my children’s pets. My children’s pets were their only emotional support. Previously I had decided not to go into refuge because my children would be devastated if they had to leave them behind.
We were there for four years until the family needed their home back again. So in February 2014 I began the nightmare search for a home for me, my two children and our pets. During the following three months, we experienced the trauma awaiting any victim/survivor needing a home:
1. Accusations of intentional homelessness: the local social housing officer told me that I had “chosen to make myself homeless’’ by leaving our (original) home – even though every room was filled with nightmare memories.
2. Challenging advice: the social housing officer advised me that I did not have to move out, but could ‘squat’ until evicted. I told them I could not do that because my friends needed their home back and had school age children. Yet, the advice remained the same as our moving date drew closer.
3. Not seeing vulnerabilities: the local council officer told me (within five days of being homeless) that as a healthy pensioner – I was sixty-four at this point – they had NO obligation to offer emergency bed & breakfast to me and my two children (despite one suffering severely from ME & Fibromyalgia – which research shows is common for domestic abuse victims/survivors). If we did not find somewhere we would be on the street.
4. Private landlords do not like tenants who must use Housing Benefit.
5. Private landlords do not like pets: even when they are the emotional anchor for someone. My children were terrified of being homeless and having to send our pets to the RSPCA – they still have nightmares about it now.
6.Victims and survivors often have little understanding of their housing options and rights: I felt as though I was going through a thick, impenetrable fog every day. Having to trust those advising me even though I understood little of what they were saying to me
7. Bad credit history is common amongst victims and survivors: For anyone without money/bad credit history (which most victims/survivors of domestic abuse experience), trying to get tenancy/bank accounts/deposits/etc is a nightmare. Even though most of us did not want this, the reality of refusing and saying ‘NO!’ to our abuser about money and loans was just too horrific to contemplate. So we agree and sign on the dotted line.
In May 2014 we finally found a two-bedroom private let from the local housing association. Because it had a garden we could keep my children’s pets. I spent eight hours the day before we were due to move out between the local council offices and the letting agents until the keys were finally given to me at 5:30pm. Only then did we know we would not be homeless.
We have been here just three years. My children, who are both in their twenties, share a bedroom. Next year the house is meant to be demolished with the rest of the estate. The housing association have not made the private lets into social lets because when they come to demolish our homes they will have no obligation to rehouse us, even though they have been happy to take almost double the rent (in my case through Housing Benefit) from those within these private lets.
I will be 68 in 2018 and again face homelessness – all because I finally left domestic abuse.
Margi Isaac is one of the four founding members of VOICES, a domestic abuse charity in Bath. She also works with Christian victims and survivors of domestic abuse, to encourage them towards safety even when their faith community may pressure them to prioritise their abusive relationships.