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Thanet mums reveal stark reality of life in emergency accommodation as demand soars during Covid pandemic


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Two mums have spoken of the heartache of living in emergency accommodation with their children, miles away from home and their loved ones.

One, a domestic abuse survivor, fled the Margate house of her ex-partner only to end up in a damp-ridden property in Dover and left with no choice but to pull her children out of their Thanet schools.

Thanet mums Gemma Cushing and Laura Jones were placed in emergency accommodation outside the district
Thanet mums Gemma Cushing and Laura Jones were placed in emergency accommodation outside the district

The other, left homeless after a relationship broke down, was moved from Westgate-on-Sea into a flat in Folkestone with her young son, who frequently witnessed terrifying behaviour from a neighbour.

Both mothers are surprisingly understanding about the chronic lack of social housing in Thanet but are desperate to get their children into safe and settled homes.

Council bosses say there has been an increase in demand as a result of the pandemic, with 1,592 families currently waiting for affordable rented homes in Thanet. Meanwhile, 80 households have been placed in accommodation outside the district.

One of those is Gemma Cushing, from Margate, but now living in Dover.

She sits in her new house, surrounded by boxes. There is damp on the walls, mould on some of the furniture and her unsettled three-year-old won’t leave her side.

When Gemma Cushing arrived at the Dover house, she found it was already furnished so there are now boxes everywhere and little room to move
When Gemma Cushing arrived at the Dover house, she found it was already furnished so there are now boxes everywhere and little room to move

Her other children – aged 15, 14 and 10 – are miserable, desperate to return to their friends and family in Thanet, so much so that the two eldest keep sneaking out to go back there.

“They hate it here,” admits Miss Cushing. “They can’t go to school as it’s impossible to get them all over there, so I’m trying to homeschool with a three-year-old running around, which I just can’t do.

“I can’t put them in schools here as I haven’t got the money to buy new uniforms when the council could then suddenly say ‘we’ve got you a place now, you’ve got to move back to Thanet’.

“My youngest keeps asking about going to school, but I can’t apply for a place because you need an address and because I keep being told ‘you could be moved in two weeks’. Why would I put her in a Dover school to take her out again?”

Miss Cushing says she worries about her two older children who have been bunking the train back to Thanet, with one of them almost mugged and stabbed in the eye when he got off the train one day.

Mould and damp on the walls and ceiling in Gemma Cushing’s emergency accommodation in Dover
Mould and damp on the walls and ceiling in Gemma Cushing’s emergency accommodation in Dover

“My youngest also hates it here,” she added. “She can’t be on her own, even when she goes to the toilet. She’s scared and unsettled.

“It’s just been a nightmare.”

Miss Cushing says when they first moved in back in October there was no gas or electric for a week, with the family left with no heating as the temperatures dropped.

She also brought all her furniture only to find the place furnished. So she says there is little room, with boxes everywhere, and there wasn’t even enough space to put decorations up at Christmas.

After spending Christmas with family, they returned to find mould on their possessions.

Mould in the Dover accommodation
Mould in the Dover accommodation

The 38-year-old admits she cries herself to sleep at night, feeling helpless.

“I’ve got two major surgeries to help prevent cancer which I have to keep delaying as I need someone there afterwards to help me recover – because I’m in Dover I don’t have any family support nearby.

"I know there is no housing in Thanet which is why they’ve placed me out of the area, but I feel like I’m being fobbed off by the council.

“They just tell me there are other people in this situation, ‘we can’t give you something we don’t have’.”

Westgate-on-Sea mum Laura Jones had been living in emergency accommodation with her five-year-old son in Folkestone – 30 miles away from her home town – since August, but this week was finally moved back to Thanet.

Laura Jones was placed in emergency accommodation with her son in Folkestone
Laura Jones was placed in emergency accommodation with her son in Folkestone

Speaking to KentOnline before she found out, she recalled how the day they were moved to Folkestone all she had was a carrier bag of her boy’s things.

“There was a sofa bed, table and chairs, two beds and a washing machine, but I had to get everything else and start afresh,” she said.

“It’s not a nice situation to be in, not having a support network and not knowing anyone.”

They spent Christmas Day with her mum but other than that they were on their own.

To make matters worse, Miss Jones says she had been fearing for her and her son’s safety due to the “terrifying” behaviour from another resident where she was living.

Terrified Laura Jones barricaded the front door to the flat in Folkestone
Terrified Laura Jones barricaded the front door to the flat in Folkestone

The 33-year-old claims he held a 12-inch knife to his throat in front of her and her boy, that he banged repeatedly on her door one night, and shouted at her, demanding drugs.

Police were frequently called and he was evicted, but she says he threatened her and she became too frightened to leave the flat.

“My son was so scared, he panicked when he heard a voice outside the front door. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

“I had been barricading it to help keep us safe.

“It’s hard when you have no support around you, when you’re far away from family.”

'The increased level of need for temporary accommodation has meant that suitable accommodation is not always available.'

Thanet District Council, which owns 3,000 properties on the Isle, says since April 2020 – just after the first Covid lockdown kicked in – demand for social housing has increased.

"This has been for a number of reasons including relationship and family breakdowns, growing pressures on the private rented sector and increased unemployment which has had a significant impact on people being able to retain accommodation," a spokesperson said.

The council's housing options team has prevented 920 households from becoming homeless during this period.

"In situations where emergency accommodation is needed, we always look to provide this within Thanet, whenever possible," they added.

"The increased level of need for temporary accommodation has meant that suitable accommodation is not always available.

Gemma Cushing's emergency accommodation in Dover has mould and damp
Gemma Cushing's emergency accommodation in Dover has mould and damp

"There are also some cases that require specific types of accommodation and, if that is not available in the local area, in these circumstances we do have to place people further away, in accommodation that is suited to their needs.

"Our aim is to rehouse people back in Thanet as soon as there is suitable accommodation available. Moving anyone out of the district is an unavoidable last resort.

"We cannot comment on individual circumstances, but will always continue to support those who require assistance, and liaise with other services and agencies to ensure anyone who is vulnerable gets the assistance they need."

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