‘I WAS at breaking point,’ that’s how Portsmouth mum-of-six Maria Stanley felt after being evicted from her home in January.
Fast forward seven months and the 40-year-old has finally found a home for her family. But during that time Maria and her four youngest children relied on the generosity of several friends, sleeping on their floors and sofas for as long as they could.
The family became one of the 80,000 hidden homeless households in the UK, who are not considered officially homeless due to the availability of temporary accommodation from friends and family.
When I first spoke to Maria in June she was staying at a friend’s two-bedroom house in the city. Between them there were six children and two adults. Maria’s friend Andrea shared a bed with her two children while Maria’s four children slept in two single beds. Maria slept on the sofa downstairs.
This was a stressful experience for all of them, amplified by the fact that Maria’s eight-year-old son suffered from autism and one of Andrea’s children had ADHD.
Maria said: ‘My son started hurting himself, his emotions were all over the place because he didn’t have his own space.
‘The social worker said that the boys shouldn’t be living together because they made each other worse. But we had nowhere else to go. It was more important the kids had somewhere to live.’
This was what Maria told herself every time she was forced to move her family into someone else’s home, although she was still unsure of how they had found themselves in that situation.
It all started in 2017 when Maria found out her housing benefit had dropped from £750 a month, which was enough to cover rent at her house in Allcot Road, to £5.25.
The reason? Maria's two eldest children had turned 18 by this point and unless she could prove their earnings or the fact that they were no longer living with her, her family was no longer eligible for full housing support from Portsmouth City Council.
Maria admitted she didn't provide all of this information. 'How could I prove that they were living with their dad? And I did eventually manage to get evidence of my eldest, Bradley's, earnings but it took a long time to come back from his boss,' she said.
Then, a couple of months later Maria found herself evicted from her home for failing to pay her rent, where she had lived since 2009. She said: ‘Two men knocked on my door. One had a drill to take the front door off so I couldn’t get back in.
‘I was about to leave for school to pick up two of my children and had the other two with me. They said they’d give me 20 minutes to pack up everything. But I couldn’t because I had to pick the children up. It was scary for them. I didn’t know what to do. We lost so much stuff, lots of memories.
'That night we stayed at a friend’s. There were five of us in a bed.'
It’s been a long journey since then but Maria managed to find a privately rented three-bedroom maisonette on Kingston Road that would accept her benefits as rent money.
Portsmouth City Council agreed to pay £725 a month towards rent and also contributed £1,300 for a deposit which Maria will have to pay back.
‘It’s just such a relief,’ she said. ‘I still feel let down about how it all happened. When I found this place I wasn’t expecting it to work out, I thought I might not get the money from the council.
‘The children can’t wait to move. They are already decorating their rooms in their heads.’
But not everyone is so lucky. For those who can’t afford to privately rent, social housing is the only option. There are currently 1,890 households on Portsmouth City Council’s housing waiting list.