Christian is 36 and lives in West Sussex with his wife and their five children. He served in the Royal Navy for 14 years.
During my time in the navy, I served in Afghanistan, the Gulf and North Africa.
I saw the very best and worst things: the looks on children’s faces when I gave them a football to play with after their school was destroyed was like gold dust; but I also saw children running around with their arms chopped off in Sierra Leone.
It’s hard to explain the effect being in the military had on me, but it taught me to appreciate things, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Before I met my wife, I’d always lived on barracks because I have a neurological condition called primary idiopathic hypersomnia. It means that my brain wants to sleep constantly. It causes temporary paralysis which occurs from time to time. It was caused by a bang to my head. The doctors say my service in the armed forces is attributable. I get a war pension.
After my wife and I got together, I moved into her privately rented home with her and her two daughters. Together we went on to have three kids. The place was in a bad state. I warned the landlord that the pointing had gone on the wall and it was damaged, but he did nothing, and the wall fell down.
We had water running down the wall of the room where our new-born baby, Jenson, was sleeping. The wallpaper was peeling off and there was HHSRS. We had to move him out of the room. He was only two weeks old and he ended up in Brighton hospital fighting for his life with acute bronchitis.
I’ll never forget the day Jenson’s doctor took me aside and said: “He’ll either make it or he won’t – tomorrow morning if he’s still with us then he’s turned a corner.”
After that I told the landlord we wouldn’t be living there anymore unless he did the repairs, but he still didn’t do them. I found out later that he did carry out repairs after we left, but only to re-rent the property. We managed to find somewhere else pretty quick, only a two-bed flat but it was nearer to family and by this point we needed some support, because my neurological condition had got worse with the stress of what Jenson had been through.
My wife works part-time and I’d like to work but it’s really hard to find a job that I can do with my disability. I have to take stimulants to keep me awake but I do still suffer regular bouts of extreme exhaustion, so I’m not reliable. I can only drive for one hour a day so that means delivery driving is not an option, and I can’t go more than half an hour from where I live in case I get sudden exhaustion.
We need to claim housing benefit to afford to live somewhere. But landlords and letting agents discriminate against people who receive housing benefit, which is why we ended up in a property with mould and damp, and then the seven of us squeezed into a two-bed flat.
I’ve lived in cramped places with the navy, but it’s different with children. The two older girls were sharing a room with their four-year-old sister who would be up in the night screaming and then they’d have to go to school tired.
We were on the housing list for ten years. It wasn’t until we pointed out that I was disabled that we got moved to a band where we stood a chance of getting a place. The goalposts seemed to keep changing every week and we’d bid on properties and get rejected and we didn’t know why.
In July we finally moved into a four-bedroom housing association house, which feels massive. The front room is as big as our previous flat! The children finally have enough space. They’ve made friends on the road and they play out with them.
The local school is five minutes up the road. Our 12-year-old has decorated her bedroom herself, she’s so happy. They’re still getting used to the idea that this is home and we won’t need to move again. We’re part of a nice community. I went to school with our neighbour and the couple over the road grew up with my parents.
It’s so important that Shelter exists. Shelter is one united voice for all the people that need a house. The Government is aware of the problem but it’s been so long that we haven’t been building enough houses that now it’s coming to a head. They need to build houses. It’s not enough to get a house building company to build 1,000 homes and then say that 10% are affordable, it’s not enough at all.
Private renting is not the answer. It’s expensive and conditions are so variable. The answer is to build more affordable houses so that everyone can have the safety and security of their own home.
There’s always a reason why people end up where they are, sometimes it’s not their fault, other times they could have done something to prevent it, but at the end of the day they need help. Our country should be able to help the people who need it.
If you believe that everyone should have access to an affordable home, join Shelter’s campaign calling on George Osborne to commit to investing in affordable homes – including social homes.
We need as many voices as possible to make sure our calls are heard, and with your support we could finally see an end to the housing crisis.