Greetings from London! It’s raining. I have a large coffee, and I’m sitting in a cafe which has been somewhat of a refuge for me over the last couple of weeks. I feel a bit like a broken record sharing with you about my accommodation woes, but at the same time, I would like to share with you what’s going on in my life, so that you understand why my blogging schedule has been disrupted in recent weeks. This is going to be a longer-than-usual post, but I’ll be so grateful if you are patient enough to read to the end (no pressure, but if you have the time).
The mental health and housing system in London aims to support people in a transition from a serious spell of illness (often including a hospital admission) into recovery and ultimately back into work and living independently in the community. What the mental health services tend to do, unfortunately, is group those with mental health issues together in properties, often leading to a hugely uncomfortable experience when one or more people within the property is becoming unwell, or has deeply ingrained psychological issues, for instance.
This kind of ‘stepping stone’ housing is known as ‘supported housing’, because a mental health charity, and a housing association, receive funding which obliges them to provide support to those living in this kind of accommodation.
My first experience of supported housing was after my last hospital admission (in 2013, I believe it was). I moved into a five bedroom house, so that’s five people with mental health issues cooped up together in a property. As you might imagine, chaos ensued. People stopped taking their medication (not me, to be clear!), started experiencing episodes of psychosis, one resident attacked another resident, the police got involved, complaints were made, etc. After about a year in that house, I was very grateful to be offered a self-contained flat (also supported housing within the same area), which is the flat where I have been living for the last 5 years.
In many ways, the flat into which I moved has been more settled and less chaotic than the 5 bedroom house. The property in which the flat is situated is a house divided into three self-contained flats, with some communal areas downstairs with a washer/dryer, a communal lounge, and a communal toilet. The communal lounge has been locked ever since I moved in, which the landlord told me was due to some antisocial behaviour before I moved in, though I was never informed about what specifically happened.
On this blog, I have written several times about the problem I’ve had with the neighbour who lives in Flat C. To name a few things he does: he growls and shouts loudly at his cat pretty much all day, every day. He plays very loud music (so loud it can be heard at the end of the street) most days between about 1pm and 5pm. On occasion he has had a physical fight with his son on the staircase right outside the door to my flat, basically torturing him until I heard him beg for mercy. He also plays a wicked game with his son, where he lets him into the building, but then refuses to open the door to his flat. So his son is left on the staircase, which he deals with by banging on the guy’s door and rattling it loudly, until he eventually opens the door and a swearing/shouting match ensues. He has also been verbally aggressive to the guy in the downstairs flat. And there are many other troubling things he has been doing.
My first strategy with this guy, was to talk with him. When I would encounter him on the way back from the convenience store, for instance, I would ask him if everything was okay between him and his son. I hoped this would prompt him to think about what was going on, and maybe even encourage him to change. But it didn’t make a difference. On a couple of occasions I suggested he asked the guy on the ground floor flat in a polite and friendly way to remember to clean out the tumble dryer filter, rather than shouting at him. It didn’t make any difference. And of course, I politely asked him to turn his music down, on at least half a dozen occasions. Sometimes he ignored me, sometimes he said he would turn it down, but he never did.
The impression I get with this guy is that he has deep set psychological issues which cause him to employ bullying as a tactic for dealing with daily life. I know very little about his background. He doesn’t seem to be getting support from the mental health services (to clarify — although I mentioned we live in ‘supported housing’, actually in this property support is provided only to me and the guy downstairs, but not the guy upstairs. I’m not entirely sure why this is).
To cut a very long story into just a long one (!), I have found it so oppressive dealing with this guy’s behaviour, that recently I felt that if I put up with it any longer I would be in danger of becoming emotionally unwell. So I took decisive action, packed a rucksack full of all the essentials I would need, and left the property with the intention that I would no longer be living there, whatever happened. Now that may seem like drastic action, but it came after years of attempts to make things better, as I have reported everything to the Mind (charity) manager who supports the property, and he has reported everything to the landlord — a housing association who have been very unresponsive.
About two weeks ago, when I walked out of the property, I went to the Mind office and sat down with the manager, explained everything about how I was feeling, and said that I was unwilling to go back to the property. That day was quite stressful, as I was told that Mind didn’t have a budget for emergency accommodation, and the local council had no housing available. My only choice, other than sleeping on the street, was to book myself into temporary accommodation (basically a cheap hotel), and stay there while I tried to work everything out.
I spent the next few days on the phone and writing emails to Mind, the police, the landlord, and legal advisors, hoping that they would take positive action that would improve the circumstances and allow me to return to the property. Mind were very helpful, but the landlord were very unresponsive, and didn’t seem to take the situation particularly seriously. The police said that nothing I had reported about the guy’s behaviour constituted a criminal offence, and the only thing they could do would be to visit him and have a stern word. I felt that this would actually make matters worse, because knowing what the guy is like I believe he would turn very nasty on me once he knew I had reported him (that is, of course, assuming I did decide to return to my flat, which I would only do if I felt safe in the knowledge that decisive action was being taken).
I contacted a solicitor, after carrying out a lot of research, and they said they didn’t have the capacity to take on a situation with this kind of complexity!
If you’re still reading this, thank you! There’s not much left, honestly 😉
I’m still staying in temporary accommodation, though I have been moving between cheap hotels and Air BnB’s, paying for everything with my emergency savings (which I am so grateful to God that I have!). I have been making plans to start working, and to move into private rented accommodation, as it really seems as though after exploring all the alternatives, this is the only realistic course of action I can take.
It’s quite exciting in a way, and I already have a plan in relation to the work side of things. Perhaps I will write a blog post about that in the coming days. In terms of accommodation, I am in the process of viewing properties in South London with private landlords (outside of the mental health system). I went to a viewing last night, which wasn’t a suitable property (but a good start nonetheless), and I have a couple more viewings lined up in the coming days. I am also spending time each day searching online for properties and attempting to arrange viewings.
It is, of course, an uncertain time. I feel like a bit of a digital nomad at the moment, but I have never been so grateful for digital connectivity and the computer and phone I have, which mean that so many possibilities remain open to me.
I hope that having read this article, you will understand why I have had to pause the filming of my Deep Thoughts About God video series, and why I haven’t posted about philosophy and theology in quite a while.
It’s great to get all of this down in writing. It’s quite therapeutic. I do have a couple of good friends supporting me and my sister has tried to be supportive as well, although she lives in another country and there’s not much she can do.
Thank you very much for following this blog and taking an interest in my life and work. I haven’t had much opportunity to read other people’s blog posts recently, though I have caught up with a few blogs here and there. Sorry if anyone feels as though I’ve been neglecting them!
The final thing I’d like to mention is how much my philosophical perspective has helped me during this period of uncertainty. Knowing that God is in control of everything that happens is incredibly reassuring, because I know that nothing can happen outside of His will. I continue to pray on a daily basis, and by the grace of God, everything will work out.
P.S. Perhaps my readers can all club together and buy me the house pictured in the photo that accompanies this post, as that’s exactly the kind of place where I feel like living after 20 years in London! 😂