Education & Family

A family celebrates having a home at Christmas

Samantha and boys
Image caption This is the family's first Christmas in their new home in Tilbury

With the homeless number of children at a seven year high, the BBC revisits a family who have finally found a permanent home after a two year struggle.

This time last year Samantha Simmons and her three sons from east London spent a precarious Christmas in a rented flat which their landlord was trying to sell.

Since summer 2013 the family had been bounced around a series of short lets and ended up camping in her mother's tiny living floor for five months after turning down "filthy" bed-and-breakfast accommodation, unsuitable for a young family.

"It was horrible. It was such a distressing and unsure time," Samantha remembers.

The only homes on offer then were in the midlands, hundreds of miles from extended family, support networks, jobs and schools.

Samantha turned them down.

"All my family support, my connections are here, everything," she told the council, which then offered her bed-and breakfast accommodation.

"The beds looked like they had been pulled off the street. It was vile. I didn't even want to breathe the air in there so I ran out of there with the baby," she recalls.

All this amounted to a refusal of accommodation, said the council and threatened to dismiss her case.

Samantha was distraught at no longer being able to provide for her family.

"I'd gone to work and we had a nice house. When we didn't have anything, it was devastating, it was horrible."

It was only after housing charity Shelter intervened that the council found her a short term let locally.

Tilbury

But it proved very short term, as the landlord decided to sell the property and Samantha and her family once again had to ask the council for help.

They were offered a housing association property in Tilbury, Essex and told they could take it or leave it - there was nothing else.

"I was crying my eyes out on the way there. It was such a long way away - but as soon as I arrived I loved it. I wanted to live there."

So the family are preparing for their first Christmas in what really is a permanent home.

Image copyright Shelter - Cinzia D'Ambrosi
Image caption In 2013 Samantha and her family spent five months on her mother's floor

The tree is up with presents underneath - a far cry from Christmas 2013 when they spent the day surrounded by boxes, ready for imminent eviction - and from last year when they were comfortable but uneasy.

The family are slowly putting down roots in Tilbury - though it has not been as smooth as they had hoped.

Living apart from extended family and friends has left Samantha in particular feeling isolated.

She would like to take a part time job or do a college course once her youngest son, Nester, now two, goes to nursery.

Nester is entitled to 15 hours a week free nursery care under a government scheme - but there are no places available at any local nurseries, says Samantha.

"It would open up my connections and social life, rather than sitting indoors and feeling a bit like a zombie."

Commuting

Eldest son Boris, now 13, is still attending his original secondary school in London's Canning Town.

He tried commuting but the journey was "long and tiring", he says.

So he stays with his grandma, who lives near the school, during the week, coming home at weekends, in the school holidays and occasionally during the week when the family can afford the train fare.

This separation has proved stressful: "The boys have lost their bond and Nester is asking where Boris is," says Samantha.

But despite this, she is reluctant to move him as he is doing very well and the school is rated "good" by Ofsted.

She is hoping Alex, now 11, will follow him in September.

"I will pass on some of the child benefit to my mum. I would feel a failure for not getting them the best education".

Image caption Samantha would like to take a part-time job if she can find a nursery place for Nester

Alex, who started at a Tilbury primary school half way through Year 6, is not so sure: "I would rather be where my mates are going."

But, with the family all together for Christmas and despite the complications, Samantha is "really happy living in this house - the first house I have ever had".

In the summer she says they grew tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries and flowers in the back garden and took trips to the seaside at Shoeburyness and Southend with her mother when they could afford it.

"I am so grateful for it. If I could pick it up and put it right next to my mum's I'd be totally happy," says Samantha.

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