Stigma and Social Housing – one man’s perspective

As part of #HousingDay, we asked one of our former tenants – who has asked to remain anonymous – about the stigma he has faced from his time living in homeless hostels, and what social housing has meant to him.

 

An old saying is “what’s in a name?” Well, not as much as in an “address” in my opinion. The place where you live can often give people the opportunity to be judgmental over who you are and what you are (in their minds); they develop negative and damaging perceptions.

I’ve spent periods in homeless hostels, they were short spells and I had lots of help to move on but life kept delivering blows and I found myself back in hostels over several occasions. All the time I was living in hostels I was unemployed, most of my fellow residents were. But that didn’t stop me looking for work, very hard, day after day. I was willing and able to work but my address was the problem. All local employers knew the addresses of hostels and your address is on your application. You can try to disguise it but it doesn’t work and it goes against you.

I must have applied for hundreds of jobs but I never received a single reply from an employer. I met many decent people in the hostels, down on their luck like me, looking for work just like me, but they too were unsuccessful. This is unacceptable labelling of people, you are not even given the chance of an interview to explain your strengths and skills, merely because of your address, people have made the judgement that because you are in a hostel you are worthless, uneducated, unskilled and a scourge to society.

This is also the way that private landlords look upon benefit tenants and why the greediest of them put rents up much higher than housing benefit levels so that people cannot possibly afford them. What they fail to realise is that employed people are well capable of trashing properties, being guilty of anti-social behaviour and falling behind with their rent. Renting from private landlords has no security at all whether you are in your accommodation for a short period or a longer one.

This is a problem for anyone, but if you are on benefits, things get very difficult indeed when you try and find another home. It happened to me, after a hostel, I was in privately rented accommodation for two and a half years and I thought I was safe. I lost my tenancy merely because the owner returned from abroad. And then I had to return yet again to a hostel, which was very demoralising and led to depression.

“Social housing” is different as it offers people homes that are affordable, especially to those on benefits as rents are set at or below local housing benefit rates which almost eliminates the risk of arrears which can lead to homelessnessthrough eviction. This causes extreme stress and break-up of families.

I myself have recently moved into a home from a social housing provider after a very difficult few years. The overwhelming feeling I have is finally one of security and stability which means I have been able to focus on getting my life back together.

However, because “social housing” often accommodates people on benefits it develops a stigma, for people living at an address that is known to be “social” housing. Plenty of honest hard working people, many on minimum wage live, in “social housing” so why should social tenants have to face this stigma and discrimination from people? What gives people the right to develop such negative perceptions?

I throw this forward as a topic of debate for all.

And a question – could the social housing providers themselves take a more pro-active stance on this issue and help to reduce peoples’ negative attitude? After all, in these hard and difficult times, who wouldn’t want the chance of a secure and well maintained home at an affordable price?

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