Mum sharing bed with 2 kids in tiny flat 'has panic attacks' - council says she's got too much stuff

A woman standing in a doorway in a small cluttered flat holding a toddler with a young girl next to her
Shamicka says her cockroach-infested flat is so claustrophobic with two young children that it's affecting her mental health -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

It is a squeeze for Shamicka Denis to pass through her bedroom/living room door in her extremely compact apartment. In her 'self-contained unit', space and privacy are at a premium, with disruption and claustrophobia a part of daily life.

The mum-of-two shares a bed with her toddler and nine-year-old daughter in a room that triples as bedroom, living room and playroom. Holes scar the ceiling, light switches' electronics are exposed and all the time there is the wailing of a fan blowing in a seemingly pointless effort to combat the flat's stuffiness.

As a resident of The Poplars in Greenford, the 29-year-old says Ealing Council's temporary housing solution has wrecked her mental health, destroyed her sleep pattern and left her desperate for a way out. But Ealing Council claims her space issues are partly down to her having too many possessions, because she 'moved all of the contents of her previous property' there when she was turfed out in a no-fault eviction.

READ MORE: Vulnerable residents concerned as changes made to 'life-saving service' as council says there'll be minimal disruption

A woman sitting on a sofa with her arms around two young children
Shamicka says she has started having panic attacks since she moved in -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Shamicka told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): "We haven't come from nothing, we have come from somewhere, where we were living for 7-8 years. Of course, we are gonna come with some extra stuff. What do they expect me to do, throw away everything and have nothing for me and my kids? It's just ridiculous."

The apartment's main room contains its only source of natural light with two large ground-floor windows facing a busy car park. "I don't sleep at night," Shamicka tells the LDRS. "The [car] lights, at first I wasn't sure [they were the cause], but I have been getting panic attacks. I have dreams of a car coming and crashing through the window. It literally keeps me up at night time."

The position of her windows and their proximity to the car park means she and her children have struggled with privacy, noise and car fumes because they are their only source of ventilation. The ground floor unit contains a humble kitchen and a tiny bathroom, while the bedroom/living room's frosted windows offer little in the way of privacy from passing neighbours and bright headlamps at night.

She said: "There's a lot of back and forth between some of the neighbours, I think some of them come from troubled backgrounds so my daughter is always hearing the screaming, there is always drama. There are always people arguing out in the car park, and substance users as well, so they all come with their friends. It all gets a bit chaotic. When the fire brigade or the police come, unfortunately I see a lot of action."

The mum says she gets a maximum of 3 hours sleep a night, making it hard for her to maintain a normal life while frequent panic attacks are making daily tasks increasingly challenging. This was not always Shamicka's life.

The outside of a building with colourful cladding
The Poplars opened in 2022 in order to accommodate residents in need of temporary housing -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

No fault eviction

Before moving into the property in July 2022 the mum had been privately renting until a no-fault eviction by her landlord pulled the rug from underneath her and left her with no choice but to seek help from Ealing Council. A former council worker and financial assistant, Shamicka, who was pregnant at the time, said being bounced around emergency accommodation and losing her home wrecked her mental health.

"The move, my mental health, I didn't even tell them I was pregnant, I just didn't go back one day. I have never done that before, I take my professional life very seriously. But I was in emergency accommodation which was horrible and I was like 'oh my God this going to be my life'."

During this period Shamicka said she fell into a deep depression as she grappled with losing a home as well as loved ones both during and after the pandemic. She said: "Do you know what, everyone is human, I can't judge other people because people are probably judging me like 'uh you in a place like this, what did you do to deserve that' and I'm like 'uh if I could click my fingers I wouldn't be here' but I have lost a lot.

"My grandmother, my mum's mum, my mother, my dad and my uncle [have died] since 2020. It's been a lot and having to deal with all this other stuff on top has been a nightmare."

Although the Poplars is designed for temporary and vulnerable residents, Shamicka says she has been told by the council that it could be up to six years until permanent accommodation would be available. "I feel like it's inhumane treatment," she says of her current home, which she claims is infested with cockroaches and mould. "No one should live like this with their family."

A large hole in a wall
Holes, damage and infestations plague the housing units, she claims -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

The mum has received little in the way of sympathy from the council who have said that her cramped surroundings are fit enough to accommodate an extra person, as the single bed home is 'suitable for 4'. Shamicka contends that the conditions she has been placed in have had a detrimental effect on her health and has asked the council to assess its suitability.

"They come back and say it's not the accommodation that is affecting my mental health, well what is it then? 'Cause I have never had panic attacks before, [but now] I do, even dropping my daughter to school."

Shamicka says she is worried about the effect growing up in a place like the Poplars might have on her kids, but can't find a way out of her situation. "I'm in limbo. Now my daughter asks me questions, I don't know the answers to. I try to be as hopeful and optimistic as I can be but it's like there is only so much of that I can do."

The accommodation has robbed the mum of some of the basics other people enjoy. "The ability to have post come through that door, I don't have that luxury. The ability to tuck my kids in at night and go downstairs or into another room, I don't have that luxury. So we are living on top of each other.

"This is not life. I'm trying to be out of the house as much as possible because it's just so depressing. People don't realise the effect living in a place like this has. Sleeping with your kids every day - I love them very dearly - but I don't want to share every little thing with them. I want them to have their own space too."

Ealing Council commented: "Ealing is at the sharpest end of the affordable housing crisis. Since 2018, private rents have almost doubled in some areas, and the total number of private rented properties across the borough has gone down by more than 40%. Combined with the cost-of-living crisis and the government's freeze in local housing benefit, we have seen a huge spike in the number of families approaching the council for emergency help with their housing.

"Ms Denis lives in a self-contained unit at one of our temporary accommodation hostels, which is suitable for occupation by four people. All the windows have blinds, and the lower part is frosted, which would allow Ms Denis to dress and undress in privacy. She has not reported a cockroach infestation or any issues with damp/mould in her unit to us. However, we will arrange for pest control and repairs colleagues to visit to investigate.

"If Ms Denis has any medical issues then she should complete our online assessment form for consideration, to see if any medical priority should be applied to her social housing application status. Ms Denis has moved all of the contents of her previous property into her current accommodation, which means that it has more belongings in it than we would expect. She can apply for a discretionary housing payment for help with the cost of storage for some of her belongings, which would allow for more space in her home."

Shamicka said she did keep some possessions in storage for six months and asked the council if they would cover the cost, but they wouldn't and eventually she 'had to let it all go'.

Don't miss out on the biggest local stories. Sign up to our MyWestLondon newsletter HERE for all the latest daily news and more.