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Routes into advocacy: campaigning for better housing

26 January 2023

Advocate Helen has worked for VoiceAbility for over three years. She explains how her experience campaigning for better housing conditions for people in London informs her advocacy role.

The housing campaign group in London that I used to work with created networks with other housing campaigners. Through this, I saw the wider issues facing people in a range of circumstances: from private renters, temporary accommodation and people living on boats to those living in housing associations and renters in houses of multiple occupancy. We even networked with homeless organisations supporting people to keep a roof over their head. 

Though we were fighting our own separate issues, networking helped us to create a collective voice. This helped us to build a great understanding of the housing crisis facing so many of us, despite our different walks of life. 

It gave me a good understanding of rogue landlords, impossibly high rents, poor living circumstances and housing conditions. I became aware of the cramped, damp conditions and difficulties of co-habiting. It was clear that the pressure being placed on people was intense, and that their health was worsening as a direct result of the conditions they were (and still are) forced to live in. 

Through my experience as a housing campaigner, I am a stronger advocate.

Having this understanding gives great value and weight to those I advocate for. Understanding their living conditions allows me to recognise the grave importance of giving them a voice, and fighting for their rights.

Ruth’s story

While working as an advocate, I supported Ruth (not her real name) who felt she was not being listened to by professionals. They had visited her home and branded Ruth as a hoarder. 

Ruth told me that they were living in a house of multiple occupancy. As an elderly disabled adult, they had very few options of places to live on benefits. Most landlords renting rooms explicitly say no housing benefits: No DSS”. Ruth was housed with many other people in vulnerable states: mental or physical ill health; people out of work, struggling with addiction or recently released from prison. 

The landlord, Ruth felt, was a rogue landlord. He failed to listen to her when she told him the walls were damp and mouldy. This, she told me, was why her belongings were placed away from the walls. It was not, as other professionals had assumed, because she was hoarding’.

Ruth told me that being branded a hoarder and deemed mentally unwell led professionals to intervene when she tried to report unwanted attention and bullying from a neighbour. Ruth was misled, and then sectioned against her will. 

Understandably, not being listened to and supported meant Ruth had a strong distrust for the authorities. She was in desperate need of being housed away from her present circumstances, but despite many attempts the local authorities told her there was nothing they could do, and they were unable to house her in another borough near a community group she had found safety in. 

Professional curiosity in advocacy

As advocates we are encouraged to use professional curiosity: that we must see not only what is right in front of us but also the wider context. 

We are there to listen, and not to judge. This is our strength and a vital part of our role.

Knowing what I know of the living conditions of so many in London, I know how important it is to persevere for the people we support, and ensure that their point of view, feelings and wishes are well represented when decisions are being made about their health and wellbeing. The value of challenging closed cultures. Reminding professionals to really do what is in a client’s best interest - and first and foremost what is reasonable under the circumstances. Encouraging them to be holistic and take each person into consideration, by approaching them in a person-centred way.

Useful resources

If you’re based in London and are facing issues around housing, Helen recommends contacting the following organisations:

Radical Housing Network

National Bargee Travellers Association

London Renters Union

Independent advocates like Helen provide support for people to be heard in decisions about their health, care and wellbeing. 

Find about more about advocacy in your area.

You can also read this information in Easy Read.