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'Why we're living in a caravan': The homeless families with nowhere else to go

PUBLISHED: 06:30 18 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:54 18 May 2019

Kelly Gregory has been homeless since February 2018 and lives in a caravan with her three children. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Kelly Gregory has been homeless since February 2018 and lives in a caravan with her three children. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Fifteen months ago Kelly Gregory and her three children were evicted by their landlord.

More than 80 children in Great Yarmouth were living in temporary accommodation because of homelessness, according to the latest Government figures. 

Picture: James BassMore than 80 children in Great Yarmouth were living in temporary accommodation because of homelessness, according to the latest Government figures. Picture: James Bass

Spending the winter before last, when the Beast from the East hit, in a caravan with only an electric stove for warmth they had hoped it would be a stop-gap.

But with another winter gone they are still living on a campsite in the Great Yarmouth area.

The lack of a home has hit her two boys Ellis, 10, and Shaye, 3, the hardest, Kelly said.

Ellis, who has behavioural problems, has not attended school for several months and there is little for him to do during the day in the caravan.

Kelly Gregory. Picture: ANTONY KELLYKelly Gregory. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Shaye, meanwhile, who was born with brain damage, developed pneumonia over winter while the family spent three months in an emergency B&B in the town paid for by the council.

The B&B, where Great Yarmouth Borough Council regularly places homeless people, was completely inappropriate for children, Kelly, 34, said.

They saw other residents taking drugs and had to call 999 when they heard a woman being attacked, she said.

Ellis, meanwhile, found a man passed out in the corridor.

Steve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: ArchantSteve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: Archant

"It was horrible," Kelly said. "I didn't want people doing drugs in front of my kids. They didn't care there were kids there"

A council spokesman said in response they had not had any complaints about the B&B.

They added: "Before we commence placing in any new B&B or hotel we always check the status and suitability of the property with our environmental health team.

"The housing team then keeps in contact with households in temporary accommodation and so can pick up issues."

Steve uses the awning of the caravan to store all his possessions. Photo: ArchantSteve uses the awning of the caravan to store all his possessions. Photo: Archant

At the start of January the hotel placement came to an end and Kelly said she had nowhere else to go other than back to a caravan.

"I was on the phone to a social worker asking for help," she said.

"I went down to housing office, cried and begged."

She was made homeless after falling out with her landlord.

Steve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: ArchantSteve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: Archant

They said she was in rent arrears, while she said she was evicted after complaining about damp in the home.

It means the council has classed her as being "intentionally homeless" and therefore has no duty to accommodate her long-term.

The council spokesman said: "If a family is found intentionally homeless we have a duty to continue to provide temporary accommodation for a reasonable time and we will continue to work with them to help them secure accommodation."

Since the eviction, Kelly said she had struggled to find a landlord willing to take a family on benefits without a good reference from their last landlord and a large deposit. She is not alone.

Steve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: ArchantSteve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: Archant

Between the new Premier Inn going up on Yarmouth's Golden Mile and the huge wind turbines waiting to be shipped offshore, there is a strip of wasteland where the homeless have also found temporary shelter.

Four caravans are jammed between the verge and sand dunes.

Inside one of them Steve Smith, 45, lives with his wife Tracy, and brother Dan.

The three of them have been there for around six weeks, Steve said.

Steve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: ArchantSteve Smith's caravan parked on the seafront in Great Yarmouth. Photo: Archant

Tracy and Steve were living in Woolwich, south London, but lost their council home after a row with the local authority.

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They towed their caravan up to Yarmouth earlier this year, where Dan was already living, hoping it would be a temporary solution.

Their awning is full of their possessions, washing struggling to dry and old army gear.

Just outside their awning but hidden by dunes are two tents. Steve said there is a group of men living in them too.

He has his dog to keep him safe, but the caravan is no place for his sick wife or three adults to live.

Dan said he was living in a flat share in Yarmouth but fell out with his landlord and cannot find other private housing willing to rent to someone on benefits without paying for several months in advance - money he doesn't have.

He has struggled, he said, since leaving the armed forces.

All three said they have sought help but have not been offered any accommodation by the council because they haven't lived in the area long enough.

"It is a joke," Steve said. "It is stressful but we just do what we can."

A council spokesman said: "We are aware they are there, however, they have not requested the council's assistance to date. We have ensured the individuals know how to access help should they require it."

-Have you been affected by homelessness? If you'd like to share your story please contact journalist Tom Bristow on 01603 77 2834 or email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

Universal Credit and homelessness

MPs and charities have long blamed the introduction of benefit system Universal Credit for homelessness increasing across the country.

Universal Credit makes the system simpler by rolling all benefits into one, but uncertainty over payments has made landlords less willing to take on tenants.

Delayed payments in places it was first rolled out, including Great Yarmouth, led to tenants falling into rent arrears.

Previously, housing benefit was paid directly to the landlord by the council, but under Universal Credit the money is paid to the tenant who then pays the landlord.

Of 19 rooms to rent in Yarmouth, on one website, just three said they would consider taking someone on benefits.

The council said that for families in Kelly's situation it used something called the Norfolk Intentionally Homeless Families Protocol, meaning, it said, it gives those families advice and support to secure a home.

Homeless children

Kelly's children are three among more than a hundred who have been living in limbo in Great Yarmouth.

The numbers of children in temporary accommodation was 105 at the start of 2018, according to Government data, the highest figure since 2014.

But by the middle of the year that had dropped to 82, which the council said was down to its prevention work.

In Norwich, meanwhile, there were 16 children in temporary accommodation in the same period.

Councils across the country pay for families, who would otherwise be homeless, to stay in B&Bs.

They are meant to be a short-term solution while a home is found.

From January last year to August this year Great Yarmouth Council spent more than £88,000 on B&Bs.

A council spokesman said there were currently seven families in B&Bs in the borough and they had plans for them to move on within the next six weeks.

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