'Completely and utterly forgotten' - the homeless mum searching for a place to live in Cornwall

  • Hear Dawn's housing story

“It feels very hopeless for a lot of people.

“The problem is just too big now, and it’s just getting bigger.”

Hundreds of people are in temporary accommodation in Cornwall, waiting in limbo.

And thousands of people are on the Cornwall housing waitlist – this year, almost 6,000 more than the last.

Dawn Rudgewick-Brown is one of those people. She feels lucky because she only had to live in a B&B room with her two children for six weeks before being moved to a house.

But they haven’t put any pictures on the walls, haven’t taken their belongings out of storage, haven’t been able to plan for the future.

They, like hundreds of others in the county, are trapped in a housing nightmare.

Dawn Rudgewick-Brown

Classed as homeless, while they have roofs over their heads it is far from an ideal scenario.

Dawn started up a housing crisis support group on Facebook after finding so many people were in the same boat as her, as a source of comfort and information.

She has since heard countless harrowing accounts first-hand from people who are stuck. She says parents, children and families have been left waiting until evenings to be told where they are going to be housed, which often means they're faced with waiting in their cars or cafes with all of their possessions holding out for a call.

Sometimes, Dawn says, those calls haven’t come - and she knows of people who have had to sleep in their cars with children overnight because they’ve not been housed.

Mums living in a single Travelodge room with three young children. A family faced with the choice of being housed by the council in Wales or move into a caravan on their parents driveway with no gas or running water.

Dawn Rudgewick Brown was served an eviction notice in January. Years before, when she divorced, she promised herself she would never take a council house - there were others that needed them more, and she was determined to be able to provide for her family. And she was adamant she would never use a foodbank, again as there were more people in need than her, she felt. Since January, she's had to do both.

Dawn spoke about what she feels needs to be done.

She said: "Obviously more houses. More people giving information out from the council - it's such a massive amount of work that needs to be done.

She added: "It's a stalemate. For me if I had one wish that was realistic, that wish would be a ton more staff at Cornwall Council on the phone for people like me to call us and give advice we need.

"Half of the people [in the group] don't know who their case worker is. We feel completely and utterly forgotten. We are passed around the houses so much.

"You can't help but phone back but ultimately the issue is they have so many people to deal with they [the council] can only deal with the basics. I'm not blaming the council – they are just doing their job – but surely they are supposed to be equipped to deal with the amount of people in this situation now.

"I don’t think the homeless journey is going to end for a long time for a lot of people."

Dawn Rudgewick-Brown has vowed to keep the support group going even after she gets a home

In a bid to try to get to the bottom of housing answers, which she says she couldn’t get from the council, Dawn set up the support group on Facebook.

Dawn now speaks to people in the group who are desperate for help. Morning and night, she receives texts and calls from people in hope of getting support.

The group has more than 400 people looking for the same answers as she was, and a support network to lift each other up and share their experiences of homelessness.

With more members joining each week it's just the tip of the iceberg of the homelessness people are facing.

What has Cornwall Council said

We spoke to Olly Monk, the councillor in charge of housing for Cornwall about the situations homeless families and people are facing and some of the concerns they have around getting information when they lose their home.

He said: "When each person approaches the council because they've been threatened with homelessness or eviction, immediately they get registered and should end up with a Homechoice number and at that point they get allocated a case officer.

"Sometimes this process can happen very quickly and it does take a couple of days sometimes to get these process in place.

"Our officers are desperately stretched at the moment with the amount of people we are seeing needing our services but they do get allocated a housing officer."

In regards to people not being told until the day or evening whether their hotel or B&B room has been extended, he said: "We book in through hotel chains and B&Bs and what happens sometimes is the B&B and hotel chains wait until the end of the day to see if their rooms have been taken by the general public.

"If they haven't they'll then come to us and say they have rooms available in A or B or C location. Thats why we are rolling out our own modular units to be able to soak up that pressure and give people much more settled accommodation - they've got a front door, they can stay there for a longer period of time whilst we build our more permanent council type house accommodation."

On the overall picture, Cllr Monk said: "It makes me feel really, really sad and frustrated we can't find accommodation for people who desperately need it at this moment in time.

"But the council is working very hard to improve and increase the amount of temporary and emergency accommodation. The council itself, our own housebuilding team - we're getting on for 1,000 units either being currently built or in the pipeline to be built.

"We've got Treveth our housebuilding company who've got over 600 properties they're currently working on and developing out and then we've got our trusted housing partners Coastline, Ocean Housing, Livewest - they're all ramping up to start providing over 200 300 units each year."

He said there "should be no instances where anyone's left on the street overnight" and wants there to be future properties for children growing up in Cornwall rather than them having to leave when they turn 18.

But to do that, he says people need to have an honest conversation with themselves about where new houses can be built for future generations of their own family.

Around 10,000 houses are needed in Cornwall right now - which Cllr Monk says "sounds like tons" - but split over Cornwall's 200 parishes, that's 50 in each one.

In regards to people being housed outside of Cornwall, Cllr Monk said he was aware families have had to move to Devon - which he says is not acceptable - but is not aware of anyone being offered somewhere as far away as Wales.

Cornwall Council added: "The council is always looking for alternative accommodation, especially for families with children. Where there is no immediate alternative, we seek to extend bookings in temporary accommodation like bed and breakfasts, hotels and holiday parks wherever possible and to let people know as far in advance as possible of the status of the booking.

Cornwall Council has said that no decisions have yet been made on the future of the control centre

"We’re continuing to work hard to increase provision of temporary accommodation, including the acquisition of properties on the open market and the delivery of modular accommodation units. However, demand is outstripping supply. 

"The council also has information on its webpages: The Housing Options Service - Cornwall Housing and Shelter also have detailed information: Housing advice from Shelter - Shelter England. The advice is to seek help as soon as problems arise with your tenancy or home: there is an upstream prevention service, Nos Da Kernow. There is also a Tenancy Rescue and Sustainment Scheme, run through Citizens Advice Cornwall, which can provide financial assistance."