Homeless family in Oldham at ‘rock bottom’ over house offer
Reporter: Charlotte Green (Local Democracy Reporting)
Date published: 19 July 2019
Danielle Sweeney with her partner and five-month old baby
A homeless mum with four kids says she has reached ‘rock bottom’ after the only home she’s been offered is ‘yards away’ from a house which supports ex-offenders and drug addicts.
Danielle Sweeney, 39, is refusing to take the property Oldham council has assigned to her in Greenacres but has been told if she doesn’t take it the town hall won’t continue to house her family.
While living in temporary accommodation for the past six months she has bid on around 50 homes but was only offered one house in the borough – that she didn’t bid on.
It would mean her eldest son would have to take two buses to get to school or walk an hour through ‘rough’ parts of the town.
But the council says the property is ‘suitable’ and the children, aged 13, ten, and eight, would not have to travel ‘excessive distance’ to get to their schools in Royton.
Cabinet member for housing, Councillor Hannah Roberts said they currently have more than 17,000 households waiting for three bed properties.
Danielle said: “I’ve not bid on that property, I don’t drive and it would be nearly an hour and half journey to get the kids to school and what they’ve said is – change school.
“But my daughter is going into her last year of primary school. Why should I uproot her in her last year?”
Her other main concern is its proximity to a housing project for single men run on Spring Street, that she feels her children would be unsafe living near.
It operates as supported accommodation for men who otherwise would become homeless, and also takes people through referrals who have left prison, have drug or alcohol issues or have been victims of domestic abuse.
“We went to look at the property at 10am on a Saturday morning and two grown men were in the street fighting over drugs,” she said.
“There were men sat in the street drinking cans.
“A home is what you make of it but when you look and it’s right next to a hostel when men are fighting – it’s not right for a family of four children.”
Danielle told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she had to leave her former house in Royton in January when she was pregnant with her daughter Lottie after the landlord wanted to sell up.
She couldn’t afford to move into a new private rental, so the council advised her to present herself formally as homeless.
The family was first housed in a B&B, before being moved to a flat, and then moved again to their current temporary accommodation in Oldham.
But the flat, which is owned by First Choice Homes, was dirty, ‘crawling with mice’, and they are sleeping in bunk beds, Danielle says.
Rat poison has been put in the boiler room by the council, as well as under the kitchen units but she has also bought her own traps.
“It’s horrible, my daughter’s five months old and I can’t let her go on the floor because it’s hanging,” she said.
“In here I’ve had to duct tape up all the skirting boards, because mice were getting out of the holes. Now you can hear them scratching in the walls.
“It’s not something you want your kids to see when they get up in the morning, a dead mouse.
“Everything is in storage, the kids have had no toys for nearly two months. We don’t even have Wi-Fi.”
First Choice Homes said they strive to provide the ‘highest quality’ of housing, and are speaking to her about her concerns, but that pest control is delivered by the council.
The disruption has piled pressure on her family, with both Danielle and one of her sons being placed on antidepressants.
“The kids don’t sleep at all here, and if it’s not the noise of the lift, it’s parties, and police cars and ambulances because we’re right next to the hospital,” she said.
“The kids are going school tired, my little girl’s not been going to her dance classes because of all this.
“I have hit rock bottom now, my partner’s scared of leaving me on my own because he thinks I’m going to do something stupid.
“I just want us to have a home.”
Her appeal to the authority was unsuccessful, but she says she will now make her case in court as to why the house she has been offered is inappropriate.
In a statement, Councillor Roberts said they consider it ‘reasonable’ for her to accept the property they have offered under homelessness legislation.
“Oldham council has been in constant touch with Ms Sweeney for a number of months in a bid to resolve her housing situation,” she added.
“We have offered her accommodation which we consider to be suitable for the needs of her and her family.
“We do sympathise with her situation and officers have worked hard and as fast as possible to reach a conclusion that is agreeable to all the parties involved.
“However, Oldham, like boroughs across the country has a lack of three-bedroom properties and we cannot always offer people homes in the areas which they want.
“We currently have 17,761 households waiting for three bed properties on our housing register.
“We have informed Ms Sweeney of the options now open to her and will continue to provide further advice and assistance if she requires it.”
Kelly Webb, assistant director for health and housing needs at First Choice Homes Oldham said: “We always strive to provide the highest quality of housing for customers living in our properties and our team will be in touch with Ms Sweeney about her concerns.
“We will always ensure that the temporary accommodation we provide is ready for people to move in to as soon as possible, to help families avoid the prospect of becoming homeless.
“Pest control is dealt with by Oldham council and we are working closely with both the council and Ms Sweeney on this issue.”
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