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With more than 1,000 homes lying empty in Dundee, four mums speak of their desperate housing situation

Terri Lewis and one-year-old daughter Riva
Terri Lewis and one-year-old daughter Riva

After shock statistics revealed more than 1,000 homes are lying empty in Dundee, we spoke to four mums who are desperate to be re-housed.

They told us about overcrowded and cramped conditions, with several family members forced to share tiny rooms and children with severe learning disabilities whose quality of life was being impaired.

Some have been waiting for as long as seven years to be re-housed, while tragedy and violence had forced others into the desperate living situation they now find themselves in.

‘I only want a bed’ says Dundee mum who has slept on a couch for seven years

Ashley Donnet

A Dundee mum who has been forced to sleep on her sofa for seven years has spoken of her “nightmare” wait for a new home.

Ashley Donnet and her five children, 20, 12, nine-year-old twins and 7, live in a three-bedroom house in the St Mary’s area, and for years she has pleaded with Dundee City Council to get a better house for her family.

She said: “My oldest son needs a room on his own, and then my two girls who are 12 and 9 in one room and my two sons who are 9 and 7 in the other.

“When they were all wee they could stay in the same room but now they are older they need to have their own rooms.

“I don’t have any cupboards so all my personal stuff is dotted all over the house.

“I am down on the list for overcrowding and I get medical points as well for my nine-year-old son.

“He has ADHD and borderline autism and doesn’t like loud noises and wants his own space.

“My oldest daughter also had a bad accident outside the house when she was eight – she was knocked down and she is lucky to be alive.

“She has nightmares and I think she has PTSD from it because with her mental health as she relives that day-to-day.

“She can only move her eye three ways after the accident and every time I open the blinds out front I still see the vision of that happening to her.

“It is a nightmare.”

Ashley’s story comes just days after the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership revealed that 7,700 people are currently on a waiting list for a house in Dundee.

The campaign group is calling on the local authority to prioritise renovation of 1,209 long-term empty homes in the city.

Ashley claimed she was told she was in the top five on the housing list before lockdown, but has not heard anything since.

Ashley added: “I have been waiting since my youngest one was wee.

“I just need to keep phoning them and getting on at them and it is getting to the stage where you think ‘what’s the point?’.

“That is the way I am feeling about it because they are not going to do anything.

“I am also not going to throw my oldest one out because that is unfair and he needs somewhere to go too – I would rather sleep on the settee than do that to my son.

“I only want a bed, that is all I want – my own bed.

“I have to get changed in the bathroom and go in and out of the kids’ rooms to get my clothes and shoes.

“You can’t get a proper sleep in the living room either – our toilet is downstairs so if the kids need the toilet they are up and down at night and I can hear everything.

“It is horrible.”

“It is not easy”: Single mum tells of her struggle to find a home for her children after fleeing domestic abuse

A Dundee single mum of five has told the Tele of her struggles to find a house big enough for her family after fleeing domestic abuse and staying in a women’s refuge.

The woman, who cannot be named, chose to leave the women’s refuge and take a three-bedroom flat in Fintry in a bid to give her children a better life.

However with the cramped living conditions in her flat she is pleading with her housing association to try and get a larger flat so they can all have more space.

She said: “I am a single mum of five but I share care of my older four children week about with their dad.

“But when I do have them all, there are five of us in a three bedroom flat up one flight of stairs.

“I have one in a buggy and the other one is only just managing to climb the stairs.

“I left the youngest’s dad through Women’s Aid and I took this flat on a whim because I was in the women’s refuge and I needed something more secure for me and the kids.

“The kids wanted WiFi and you are not allowed that in the refuge for obvious reasons and I just wanted somewhere the kids could feel at home.

“In the refuge it was only two bedrooms so I was sharing with the two girls and then the three boys were in a bedroom themselves.

“In our new flat we still have the three boys in one bedroom and they are 10, 8 and 6.

“I am now debating giving my oldest son my bedroom because he needs his own space.

“The two youngest wind him up and they can never agree on anything – the 10-year-old just wants to do his own thing and have some peace and quiet.

“It is not easy.

“We literally live on top of each other and the only reason I took this flat was because I wanted security and a home for my kids rather than being in a refuge flat miles away from any family.”

Ever since moving into her flat she has been asking her housing association to get moved into something more suitable, however she has been told she could be up to 100th on the waiting list.

She added: “I am between 50th and 100th on the housing list because we are only classed as overcrowded.

“I can’t go private because officially the two older ones live with their dad so he can get money for them and I get money for the younger two – that way we each get half but because of that I only qualify for a three bedroom house through universal credit.

“You can’t get a three or four bedroom place on the private market for that money.

“And private lets are a ridiculous price because landlords want students in so they can get the HMO income.

“I can’t afford that, not a chance in hell, even if you were working full time you would not make that.

“I am also a student but I don’t get a bursary and I can’t work because childcare is too expensive.

“We are also far away from the kids’ schools as well so I spend about £50 a week on buses to get them to and from school and I get no help for that either.

“Between doing alternative weeks that is about £100 every month on buses without taking anything else into account.

“The area we live in is unreal, I have had the police at the door through the night because the downstairs neighbours had issues and I’ve reported all of this to my housing association.

“There are issues with my kids as well, at the park one child took my little boy’s phone off him so now I can’t let them take their phones out with them when the whole point of them having phones is so they can keep in touch when they’re out.”

She added: “In lockdown everything came to a halt.

“I used to use the home finders service but that is barely running at the moment.

“I check it every other day to see if there’s anything coming up but nothing ever does.

“There was a four-bedroom flat across the road from my kids’ school and I phoned up about it but the next thing I knew it was gone.”

A spokeswoman for her housing association said they were aware she had an application in to get a new house, but added her current property was meeting her needs.

Bereaved Dundee mum squeezes her and five children into a two-bedroom home

A bereaved Dundee mum says she keeps getting “palmed off” whenever she asks about getting a new council house, despite squeezing her and five children into a two-bedroom home.

Terri Lewis and daughter Riva.

Terri Lewis says she has been waiting on a council house to become available since 2018, but says the situation has become more desperate as her partner passed away from a heart attack at the beginning of the year.

She said: “My partner had a heart attack lying in bed and died in January.

“I now have full custody of his two along with my two and we have one child together.

“That means there are six of us in a two bedroom home and one of my children has disabilities and needs to be in her own room.

“She took a stroke when she was a baby so she has fits, facial palsy, a club foot, deafness and has stomach problems.

“She is also not the best sleeper as she tends to get up through the night for food so she is up and down all night – she can’t be in a room with the rest of them because they would get woken up.

“So she sleeps in with me and the baby and the rest are in the other room.”

“You can’t swing a cat in here.”

Although Terri and her family currently live in a private rented property, she said she has been waiting for a council house for the past two years.

She said: “We are private renting just now but it is not up to standard – my gas and electricity went off last week and I couldn’t get hold of the landlord because he is in Thailand.

“I keep getting told there are no houses available where I want – I need to be close to my mum in case anything happens.

“I was told I was first on the list for Mid-Craigie and Linlathen but then the last time I was told I was fourth.

“I have given the council addresses of empty homes but I keep getting told they are not in my criteria.

Mum Terri Lewis

“There is a house right behind my mum’s too but they can’t give that to me either.

“Every week we get palmed off with the same thing.

“There are lots of empty homes and the council is not getting anyone in them and that is not right.

“It should be going to people who are desperate and need them right now.

“I have even had the school and social workers phoning them but I still hear nothing.

“We have been on the waiting list since 2018 and when my partner died, to me, it became an emergency.

“It has gone from him having a house and me having a house to all being together in one house.

“It is for the kids especially, they need stability.

“They had their own house and their own rooms and when their dad died everything was turned upside down for them.

“They need to be able to put roots down.”

“New accommodation is the only way forward”: Mum’s plea to get specially-adapted home for disabled daughter

Mum-of-three Samantha Ward currently lives in a two bedroom top floor flat in Menzieshill, but needs to move to a specially adapted home for her disabled daughter.

Samantha Ward

She and her partner have been waiting for a year to get an adapted council house, meaning the five of them and their pet dog are squeezed into just two bedrooms.

Samantha’s daughter is in a wheelchair and needs to sleep in a medical bed, but currently there is no room for that in their flat.

She said: “I’m in a two-bedroom top floor flat living with my three daughters and my youngest two’s dad.

“One of my daughters has severe disabilities and is in a wheelchair buggy.

“She has spina bifida hydrocephalus, which is fluid on the brain, and scoliosis neuropathic bladder and bowel.

“Day to day life involves regular physio exercises, medication and catheters four times a day.

“The main issue is my daughter is in a wheelchair which is very heavy to bump up and down the stairs.

Samantha’s daughter is in a wheelchair and needs a medical bed

“She’s also still in a cot because she shares a room with her older sister and there just isn’t any room for a medical bed.”

Samantha added: “We also have a network flat in the close that parties non-stop, smashing bottles outside.

“The dog recently nearly cut her paw on a broken glass in the grass underneath their window.

“There’s fights in the close and the majority of the time I’m having to bump my daughter’s wheelchair up a dark close because the lights keep going off.

“I’m with Dundee City Council and they’ve been amazing with the noise complaints, but with the lights they’ve been horrendous.

“The only way to change this for us is to get a new house suitable for my daughter.

“New accommodation is the only way forward because a top floor flat is unsuitable for a wheelchair and I’ve been waiting about a year for a fully-adapted wheelchair house.

“It disgusts me to know there’s empty flats and houses out there while families like us are stuck in unsuitable housing and the council thinks that’s okay.”

Responding to the cases where it is the landlord, a Dundee City Council spokesman said: “Any tenant who has concerns should contact their local housing office to discuss these directly. We would urge these individuals to contact our Lettings Centre to review their housing applications.”

This article originally appeared on the Evening Telegraph website. For more information, read about our new combined website.