As Evan Eames reveals he slept in a tent for a year to afford his tuition fees, Acting Features Director Corinne Redfern reveals why she can relate...
The rota saved us. On Mondays, Katie and I got the bed, while Amber tossed and turned on the floor. When Tuesday dawned, I rolled over and Amber climbed in, while Katie passed out on the mattress. Wednesday was my turn – I’d fall asleep to the sight of their toes wiggling half a foot above my face. By Thursday I was back in with K, smudging my mascara all over her pillowcases and trying not to tread on any faces when I got up to pee. Fridays we solved the problem by staying up all night and not going to bed at all.
For two months, we shared clothes, make up, Strongbow and air. We emptied the contents of our suitcases onto the floor and dove in – emerging like Mr Benn from the changing room, if Mr Benn was permanently hungover, showered in dry shampoo and lived in an oversized broom cupboard. One time, I accidentally wore a fancy dress costume to work. Every day came with the risk of picking out the wrong person’s pants.
I was at my happiest (Clothes! Make up! Strongbow!) and my saddest (Boys! Men! Break ups!), oscillating back and forth between the two like a violently flung stress ball dowsed in vodka and tears. Life was figuratively messy, literally messy, and came with a smell that was half Dove deodorant, half aged cat.
Half a week’s rent! Hurrah!
Without a shadow of a deeply repressed doubt, that summer is the period of my life that I’m my most grateful for – for having a friend who was willing to share her bed with me, even when I forgot to brush my teeth. For having the determination to do whatever it took (read: to sleep wherever I had to sleep) to save enough money for one month’s rent in London – to find a job that didn’t involve spilling glasses of red wine all over strangers. And for surviving on my own – away from parents, university and, well, legally secure tenancy agreements.
But for all its anecdotal value, for all the lovely privilege that enabled me to buy Strongbow and dry shampoo and Dove deodorant in the first place, and for all my nauseatingly lofty London aspirations, looking back on that summer makes me angry.
Because nobody should have to share a bed or sleep on a floor because they can’t afford to pay rent.
Probably (/definitely) taken at 6am.
For thousands of young people, not-so-young people and downright wrinkly old people, it’s their only option. They’re told things will be different – that they can do anything they want to, whatever their background, their gender or race.
But they still can’t afford to pay rent.
They have drive and ambition, and they’ll work three full-time jobs for free if it means getting ahead. But they shouldn’t have to. And, anyway – they still can’t afford to pay rent.
We’re told we’re the lucky ones, and we are: we’re not living on the streets, our parents have huffed and puffed and smiled as they made up our single beds ‘just in case’, and there’s the prospect a pay cheque at the end of the month.
But we still can’t afford to pay rent.
Statistics by Homelessness Monitor has revealed that one in ten adults has experienced ‘hidden homelessness’ at some point of their lives – and that’s set to increase dramatically now that housing benefit is scrapped for those under 21.
At the same time, graduates are expected to intern for months at a time (‘travel expenses’ are all very well, but you can’t actually sleep on the nightbus. Trust me, they kick you off. I’ve tried.) and the lack of rental caps mean that we’re now – on average – paying 56% of our income on housing.
When Evan Eames recently revealed that he’d spent a year living in a tent in Manchester because he needed to spend all of his money on tuition fees, I nodded. ‘The thing is though,’ I slurred later that night. ‘Tents are all very well. But who even has a garden any more?’
Over the last six years since that summer, I’ve relied on friends’ beds, friends’ floors and – for one month-long period that I’ve tried and failed to forget – a friend’s secondhand armchair. I am lucky, I am privileged and it has paid off – were my friends less tolerant of me treading on their faces, I wouldn’t have the job I have today.
But that still doesn’t mean it’s OK.