Stories from the frontline of homelessness

Patricia Taylor homeless woman Patricia Taylor said just a few more months to overcome cancer treatment could have prevented her homelessness

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In England today, people from more than 50,000 households are living in temporary accommodation and councils are overwhelmed with demand. The BBC's Panorama programme met one woman made homeless as illness and hard times combined to take their toll.

Until last August, Patricia Taylor lived alone in her smart, bright terraced house in Dagenham, Essex.

It had been her haven in tough times. Originally a council house, she and her husband bought the property in 1997. The house was originally worth £54,000 but is now valued at £180,000.

But three years ago, she said, her finances took a turn for the worse.

"My marriage broke down, unexpectedly really, and then I got cancer, so I wasn't working and couldn't pay the mortgage," she said in explaining how she came to acquire mortgage arrears of £9,000.

Start Quote

I shouldn't be sleeping on other people's sofas. I should be here in my home”

End Quote Patricia Taylor

"I did try and pay the mortgage and I just got ill and couldn't pay it and I don't know anybody in a position to give me the money to pay it or lend the money."

Patricia told her lender, Barclays, that she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and offered to pay £37 a week out of her benefits, but the bank took her to court and sought possession of her home.

The bank said it did everything it could to assist Patricia and evicting someone was always the last resort.

'52, homeless, hairless'

After 15 years in her home, she soon joined the ranks of Britain's new tier of homeless - those who until recently lived in their own homes and never imagined themselves both out of work and - in the worst cases - out on the streets.

The day before bailiffs arrived to repossess her home, friends and family helped Patricia pack up and take most of her belongings into storage.

She tried to remain upbeat.

"Fifty-two, homeless, hairless, I'll be alright," she said with a smile.

Until the day of the repossession actually arrived Patricia was not classified as officially homeless and Dagenham council could not tell where they would be able to offer her temporary accommodation.

Panorama: Find out more

BBC Panorama logo
  • Panorama: Britain's Hidden Housing Crisis
  • BBC One, Thursday, 13 December at 21:00 GMT

"Where am I going to be? I just don't know. I shouldn't be sleeping on other people's sofas. I should be here in my home."

When Patricia was shown to her temporary accommodation - a room with a shared kitchen and bathroom - she told the agent showing her the room that she did not feel safe there and did not want to move in.

She took up an offer instead to sleep on a blow-up mattress at a friend's house.

Patricia returned to the room offered by the council with a worker from the charity Shelter who offered to help her set up house but in the end Patricia gave up on the room and is staying with family and friends.

On her first return visit to the street where she used to live, Patricia was upset to see rubbish piled up at the side of the house, the letterbox taped closed.

Her small, smart terraced house in Dagenham sits empty, looking neglected with a For Sale sign on the front garden where her grandchildren used to play. She said just a bit of time to get through her cancer treatment could have made the difference and allowed her to stay in her home.

"It's all I needed - a few months, until my treatment had finished... get back to some normality."

Panorama: Britain's Hidden Housing Crisis, BBC One, Thursday, 13 December at 21:00 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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