02:31, September 07 162 0 theguardian.com

2020-09-07 02:31:04
My working week  My working week: 'Jakub has been sleeping rough for 10 days. I threaten the council with legal action'


I’m a housing solicitor at a charity that works to defend the rights of young people with housing difficulties.

After suffering a brutal knife attack, Liam*, who is in his early 20s, moved away from where he was living. It wasn’t safe for him to stay in supported housing in the area, or to move in with his mum. He breached house rules in his new accommodation (heading out after 10pm) over the weekend, and was evicted with just an hour’s notice to pack up his belongings and leave.

Liam gets in touch at 10am. He’s overwhelmed, living with mental health problems, and staying in a park in an unfamiliar area. I spend most of the morning on the council’s customer services phone line, trying to get through to someone from the homeless team. I eventually get through, and ask for emergency accommodation. By the evening, Liam is housed in a bungalow. It doesn’t even have a bed, but he’s happy to have a self-contained space to live in.


Jakub, 20, has been in the UK for two months and speaks very limited English. I met him while I was out getting some exercise and took his contact details – he had a phone but no way of charging it. The council’s outreach team verified he was sleeping rough soon after I got in touch.

That was 10 days ago. Even though councils have been told to house all rough sleepers during lockdown, and the local authority is aware that he’s sleeping rough, Jakub is still on the street. After days of calling and emailing with no response, I decide to warn the council that if nothing changes, we will take legal action. Jakub is provided with hostel accommodation within hours.


Leah has been living in a park. She ran away from home after being attacked by her abusive mum. She also suffers from serious mental health issues. I manage to find hotel accommodation for her, but the council decide that as a single woman with no dependants she isn’t a priority. I contact the head of homeless services and insist they provide her with emergency accommodation. They eventually concede.


Leah calls me first thing. It turns out the emergency accommodation we arranged yesterday was unsuitable. She tells me that people were shouting and banging on the doors all night, and the police had to be called. She was evicted by the caretaker at 9am this morning, with no alternative arrangements in place for tonight. I make sure that she has a place to stay by 5pm.

Having pressed the council for days to provide furniture for Liam’s bungalow, he’s finally given a bed and some basics. We’re delighted by this small win, but he’s traumatised, overwhelmed and living in area he doesn’t know.


Leah calls me while I’m drinking my morning coffee. She’s been evicted from her accommodation again. After several days of being pushed from pillar to post, evicted from a different accommodation each morning and never being told what’s going on, she’s really traumatised. I arrange emergency accommodation, and try to reassure her that tomorrow will be different. I am forever appalled by the countless obstacles that are put in the way of the young people I work with.

One of our youth advocates follows up with Jakub today. It sounds like he’s struggling. He doesn’t know where anything is, he only has access to one meal per day and is struggling to find food. He isn’t entitled to benefits as he hasn’t lived in the UK for long enough. I’m incredibly concerned about what his future holds in these uncertain times, and wonder what will happen to people like him when lockdown ends. My worry is that funding to accommodate all rough sleepers during Covid-19 will end, and if he can’t find a job (which is looking likely) he’ll be evicted from the hostel and end up on the streets again.

All clients’ names have been changed.

If you would like to contribute to our My working week series about your job in public services, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com