When the Counihan- Sanchez family came home to Brent after temporarily living in Ireland in order to take care of a sick family member, they did not expect to be denied housing.
As of right now, Isabel and Anthony Counihan- Sanchez and their five children are living in a privately rented accommodation in Ealing which is out of their home- borough, has little to no heat at times, and has rent that is much more than Anthony’s weekly earnings.
In addition to this hardship, the family’s youngest son, Vincent, has special needs and Mrs. Counihan- Sanchez has been denied a hip replacement and other necessary surgeries because of the situation that her family is in.
“I am living on painkillers,” stated Isabel, who also takes antidepressants and valium due to the stress of the conditions that her family is living under.
Upon their return to England, they were told that they could not be housed by the Brent Council and that they should have sublet their property for a year, while they were gone. They later found out that the Brent Council could keep their secure tenancy for up to a year. The family was suddenly left homeless.
“We just expected the council to maybe rehouse us,” said Isabel, “We were naïve.”
The family has tried to work with the Brent Council, but negotiations have not gone as planned.
“My husband lost nine weeks of work due to depression and not sleeping. The doctor said that he could not drive a bus on three hours of sleep,” stated Isabel on her husband’s reaction to being called “intentionally homeless” by the Brent Council in April 2012.
The family was also denied housing benefits after they declared a plot of land that was left to them in Ireland which earns them £18 a week in rent. After declaring this land in an income review assessment, their rent went from £144 to £229 a week. They were also told too late that if they marketed the land, their housing benefits would have continued for six months and they would not have been made homeless.
Not having a home to call their own has affected the entire family, especially the children whose ages range from 15 to 4 years old.
“In terms of school, with all of us, our attendance has dropped. The windows are not sealed in the house we are in at the moment,” stated Sarah, the Counihan- Sanchez’s eldest daughter, who also said that they go to bed with hoods and gloves on sometimes and have been ill or too exhausted to go to school.
The children are spread across different schools in different boroughs, which makes taking and picking them up very difficult, seeing as the family has no support network in the area.
“With Christmas, we didn’t know where we would be living or if we would be together. There was talk of foster care,” stated Sarah.
Although the family has been through hardship and is still feeling the pain of being homeless, there is a campaign that is trying to help them. When this first began, Anthony went to the Kilburn Unemployed Workers group and held a public meeting to see if anyone else was having similar housing problems.
About 50 people came to the meeting, as they were experience close to the same thing. The group has helped the Counihan- Sanchez family through this tough time by starting a campaign named after them, to fight against cuts and evictions, the Brent Council and the housing crisis.
There has been support raised for the family, and the campaign has raised awareness about this situation that hundreds of people are going through.
The group also meets regularly in public places and offers free advice and help to those who are dealing with housing problems such as eviction or high rent. They also work to get people back on their feet.
“Though none of us are professionals, we are genuinely trying to help others,” stated Isabel.
The campaign is also supported by groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts and Young Londoners Forced Out.
There is a petition that was sponsored by John McDonnell of the Labour Party, which has fifteen signatures and Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith, although he was unable to sign the petition, showed his support by stating that “it is rare to see a case where a
Council has acted so negligently.”
Although the family’s situation has not been resolved yet, with the help of the Counihan- Sanchez Campaign and the rest of their supporters, they hope to completely regain their housing benefits and get back on their feet.
“We are determined to resolve our housing problems, but also determined to keep fighting. I don’t think people realize what is happening. People need to go out and fight. Instead of trying to fight back, they are staying in their beds,” stated Isabel.
“My aspiration is for us to be settled down. We have never asked for a big house. We said we would be happy to go back to a three bedroom flat. We never asked for a big mansion like it has been portrayed.”
Although their situation is grave, Isabel believes that there will be some good that will come out of it.
Sarah stated that, “it has kind of opened my eyes. You don’t realize what is going on until you are affected by it, and now I know that if we don’t fight, nothing is going to change.”