Two weeks before Malak, 27, was due to give birth, she made her first homelessness application.
“I was sofa-surfing during my pregnancy and thought I was doing fine, but I eventually got exhausted and physically could not do it,” Malak tells Yahoo UK.
“I went to the council and, after a day of endless questions, I was seen by the supply team and given a room in the metropolitan hostel.
“How can I describe the room I was given? A prison but not prison.”
Malak went back to sofa surfing as she felt it was better for her mental health. She withdrew her application and tried to go into private renting - something a Shelter spokesperson says is “very expensive and deeply unstable”, especially for young people with insecure jobs - and stayed with friends.
“I managed to do that for a year, but in April I had to open up the homeless application again,” she says.
At the time she was staying at her partner, Marlon’s mum’s house with her infant daughter Jamelia. But, as a charity worker, Malak was classified as a ‘key worker’ when the first lockdown hit, which meant staying there was too high risk for the household.
Eventually, she was placed in a hostel in Welwyn Garden City - which came as shock to Malak, who works in Harringay, London.
“There was no indication we would be sent so far away and I had no connection with the area. There was not even a phone call, just an email saying the TA team are allocating you this place and you have to go there,” Malak continues.
— Shelter (@Shelter) December 17, 2020
This is when she turned to Shelter for help for her and Jamelia.
“The helpline explained to me in depth what was happening. They said the accommodation has to be suitable and distance into work is definitely one of the criteria. Another criteria was my childcare responsibilities,” Malak adds.
“It’s Covid, there’s no way for me to get to work right now. So the adviser said straight away this is something they can raise with the people that allocated me the hostel. And she did. I 100% think that had an effect on why they moved me back to Hackney.”
Malak, Marlon and 16-month-old Jamelia have now been living in a small hostel room in north London for the past seven months.
Shelter says the council has told Malak she could be there for up to 12 years.
Malak isn’t alone. Shelter estimates that, as of December 2020, there are 253,000 people living in temporary accommodation during the pandemic - the highest figure for 14 years.
It adds that there are now 115,000 more people stuck in temporary accommodation than a decade ago - an 83% rise.
The pandemic has had a large impact on the livelihoods of Brits this year. During the peak of the first lockdown, as many as 8.9 million Brits were furloughed and redundancies reached a record high between July and September.
According to the government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency accommodation survey data, published in June this year, over 14,000 rough sleepers were provided with emergency accommodation in May alone.
Molly, 47, returned to the UK from France early last year. She had been staying in a friend’s spare room up until the first lockdown in March when her friend lost her self-employed income and was forced to rent out the room.
Molly was offered her friend’s van, but they soon found a leak in the roof where rain was coming in.
“I had already been through the systematic process for housing support from the council, and discharged as I couldn’t get all the supporting documentation together in time to support my medical history of mental health,” Molly says.
“I am eternally grateful to the work and support of Crisis who alerted the council again to my renewed crisis situation of sleeping in someone’s van once the first lockdown began. I really don’t know where I would have ended up otherwise.”
Molly says the pandemic and her subsequent housing situation has taken its toll on her mental health: “In no uncertain terms, it has taken me to my limits, and I feel that I owe my life to the solid support I have received from Crisis and other related support services from several charities, and different counselling.”
She adds that, as she has had to move from borough to borough, she has dropped through the system for mental health support a couple of times due to the constant changing of GPs.
“It has been challenging, but I feel like I have really, really grown through this too. I have survived the year, and I am proud of myself for keeping going,” Molly says.
“I’ve also completed a course in First Aid in Mental Health, as a step towards helping others too.”
Molly credits charities like The Samaritans, Streetlink and Thamesreach, Focus E15 and her support network at the Woolwich Common Community Centre for helping her through the pandemic, as well as the Post Adoption Centre for helping her with counselling.
But - one in four people who are homeless will spend this Christmas alone. This year, more than ever, we need your help.
Change a life today. Give the gift of a #CrisisChristmas for £28.22: https://t.co/LaVO7UHrZC
— Crisis (@crisis_uk) December 8, 2020
This Christmas, Molly will be helping with the Christmas meals at Woolwich Common Community Centre, which will be open to local people who may be isolated or in need.
“I helped out last year, after the centre previously helped me with food, and it’s a fantastic experience. This year it will be different and more restricted due to the Covid situation, but there will be food available and good spirits, whatever happens,” Molly says.
“Afterwards I will go and visit any street homeless people I find in the local area to give any food I can and chat to them to see how they are getting on. For me, this is the best way to spend Christmas.”
To give a gift of a Crisis Christmas, you can donate £28.22 at crisis.org.uk/support. To find out more about volunteering, campaigning and Crisis’ year-round work to end homelessness, visit crisis.org.uk
To support Shelter this winter and give hope to all living in fear of homelessness, donate at shelter.org.uk/donate. #GiveHomeGiveHope
Watch: Daughter gets job at care home so she can see her dad during the pandemic