Homelessness: Ten Years On
The 17th of December 2013 doesn’t feel all that long ago to me. Sometimes in fact, especially at this time of year, it feels like yesterday. But shockingly, ten years have gone by since Father of the Century (sarcastic, me?) made myself and Nick, my younger brother, homeless, a year and a couple of months after our mother’s death.
The reason? A very messy divorce which led to an order that the family home be sold, and the money divided between mum and Eric (his Christian name being the only polite four-letter word I can think of to call him. Calling him the “d” word sticks in my throat.)
Interest in the bungalow (thanks to the Global Financial Crisis) was slow to begin with. And then came my mum’s cancer diagnosis in December 2010. All the same, mum was still looking for somewhere else for us to live, something which I did increasingly as her illness progressed.
Following on from mum’s death in 2012 and, recalling her eagerness that I keep busy (I wasn’t allowed to get upset, difficult as that was, she was worried it’d cause a shunt blockage.) I continued looking for somewhere to live, both via council housing and the private rented sector.
Sadly, there was nothing available. After mum’s funeral, Eric became increasingly antagonistic, making accusations that I wasn’t making enough of an effort to find somewhere else to live, and even getting his younger brother Vince to put pressure on me.
In my defence, if there is nothing around, what more can I do?
Despite my best attempts, both at finding somewhere else to live and at sabotage in an attempt to buy more time (I’m partially sighted, I’m bound to miss some of the dog muck in the back garden before potential buyers come to view the place, hehe), new buyers were found and D Day arrived on the 17th of December 2013.
Eric had told the new owners that Nick and I were being difficult and refusing to move. But when they arrived and I explained that we still had nowhere to go, they were most upset and apologetic. I reassured them it wasn’t their fault that they’d been misled.
All the same, we and the family dog (an elderly chocolate Lab named Muffin) and cat (a black moggy called Tara) had to go. Nick stayed with relatives in Harlech, before eventually moving to and settling in Merseyside.
Tara went to a cattery (and was subsequently rehomed as finding pet friendly accommodation was proving extremely difficult). Which left Muffin and yours truly. Aged 13 years and 8 months, she was too old as far as I was concerned, to go to a boarding kennel whilst I looked for a new home for us.
I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Lack of space with relatives locally meant that things weren’t looking great. That is until my sister in law Vicky suggested I go to her, my older brother Jamie and my youngest niece Charlotte in Liverpool. Needless to say, I immediately said yes.
What followed was nearly six months of alternating between a sofa and an airbed, which I was very grateful for. Whilst I had a share of the money from the sale of my home, it wasn’t enough to buy anywhere outright, and no bank was going to give an unemployed student of no fixed abode a mortgage.
So my attention turned once again to finding somewhere to rent back home (mum made me promise I wouldn’t live anywhere but Wales, and I was determined to keep that promise.)
There were two problems. Firstly, a lack of suitable housing. That is to say, I needed somewhere without stairs. Secondly, no landlord would entertain the idea of a tenant with an elderly, arthritic Labrador (recalling Tara had been rehomed because of the pets in rental properties issue).
I remember for instance viewing a bungalow in Cricieth, which had plastic grass in the front garden. As soon as the London based Welsh owner heard I had a dog, he didn’t want to know. Not sure what difference it would have made to him, considering he didn’t even live in the country.
I hate lying. I hate it even more when I feel pushed into a corner and have to do it myself. After months of no luck trying to find a home, in April 2014 I viewed a two bed mid terraced house in Y Felinheli, midway between Caernarfon and Bangor. No, the type of property wasn’t ideal. But it was close enough to uni for me to finish my Masters and I recalled mum saying once that she was rather fond of the village.
When I asked the owner whether he’d consider a tenant with a dog, he said no. Without thinking (I had my symbol cane with me at the time) I asked how he felt about retired guide dogs. Muffin had never guided me anywhere in her life. But at this point, I felt I had no choice. He instantly changed his tune. My landlord was a very intelligent gentleman though and I’m sure he knew I was being economical with the truth.
The following month I ceased to be homeless (though had to leave that address in 2017 following the death of my previous landlord and a fear of homelessness sent me to Caernarfon). I could then turn my attention to completing my studies and finding work.
Completing my studies was one thing (I graduated, still not sure how, in 2015). Finding work when I was either lacking experience or a driver’s licence proved to be quite the challenge. A challenge which I found incredibly frustrating.
A good example of this was when I’d gone for an interview in Carmarthen with Hywel Dda health board and the following exchange occurred near the end of the interview:
Interviewer: Now then Mr Evans, do you have a drivers licence?
Me: *unfolding my symbol cane* Not unless the DVLA have started handing out drivers licences to people with one of these.
Interviewer: Oh…well, a drivers licence is essential for the post.
Me: If it is, it wasn’t noted on the person specification.
Interviewer: Yes it was.
Me: I can assure you it wasn’t. Had that been the case, I wouldn’t have completed and submitted the application. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of travelling here today.
I had got used to looking at person specifications to see if there were requirements for a drivers licence before applying for jobs and there was definitely no mention of a drivers licence in this case.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
In between looking for work, I had been keeping busy volunteering with a local museum and art gallery (Storiel, in Bangor) and the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust.
I also (having some money put aside for travelling) spontaneously went to Argentina after getting frustrated at not being shortlisted for a job, as well as travelling to Australia the following year to visit friends and relatives.
These experiences proved vital in growing my confidence around people (getting beaten up in primary school and bullied throughout primary and secondary school, all due to my disabilities meant I had no confidence around people before these experiences).
Although my confidence was shaken slightly around 2018, thanks to a friend of my mother’s (Gwynfor’s now very much a friend of mine) – “The nicest, kindest man alive” she once told me, and Sel and Dave, friends who I’d met initially through Twitter, before meeting them face to face for the first time in 2017 – I didn’t lose my confidence entirely.
Speaking of Twitter, that proved to be a welcome distraction (along with reading) during my mother’s illness. When she slept, I’d either be reading a book, or scrolling through Twitter. I’ve met some truly wonderful people (some I’ve been incredibly fortunate to meet face to face) thanks to that platform.
It was in Australia in fact, where I received my first job offer (though I hadn’t gone there looking for work, I needed a break). A friend had been trying to persuade me to stay in Australia almost as soon as I’d gotten off the plane.
My reasons for coming back home (I have a dog to look after, I couldn’t cope with the summer heat, I promised mum I’d never emigrate) were all dismissed. One evening, a week before I was due to come back, as I brought some tea into the living room, Alan says to his better half:
“I think we should keep him y’know, Raine. He makes a very good butler”.
To which I reply (thinking this was a joke) “You couldn’t afford me.”
Quick as a flash, Alan asks “How does $25 an hour, room and board included and private health insurance sound?”
I’m convinced mum was pulling strings from beyond the grave to make sure I couldn’t break my promise because guess what? No appropriate visas.
I mention this particular story only to highlight how absurd it is that the first time anyone wanted to give me a chance at employment, it wasn’t in Wales, but in a foreign country on the other side of the planet!
I’ve been in continuous employment since 2020 now and feel very fortunate indeed, not just of my work opportunities, but as I’ve mentioned in previous scribblings, I am also incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to write for Nation.Cymru.
My confidence has certainly grown a fair bit in that time. This year alone, I’ve done things which you’d never have got the Ant Evans of ten years ago to do. In 2013, it’s no exaggeration to say I’d have been too terrified to entertain any of them (yes, that’s how little confidence I had at the time, I was terrified of people).
As much as I was sceptical that I could start attempting to write a book earlier this year, ten years ago, I’d never even have thought to jot down ideas, let alone seriously give it a go.
So for all of this, indeed for all of the positive experiences and encouragement I’ve had over the past ten years from my truly amazing family and the people who I feel incredibly fortunate to call friends, a huge thank you to all of you from the bottom of my heart!
What a difference a decade makes, eh? I wonder what the next ten years will have in store for me? A home without stairs perhaps? Yes I know, I’m very rock and roll!
But in all seriousness, compared to ten years ago, when I was full of worries and doubts about the future, despite the state of the world today, I’m permitting myself a little optimism for the next ten years.
And what of Eric? Well, to end on a positive note, as per my mum’s wishes, I’m nothing but polite whenever I see him.
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