A mum has spoken of her “nightmare” living situation – with her family-of-five crammed into a one-bedroom flat.
Catherine Celiesius and her partner Shane Turner have no choice but to sleep in the living room of the tiny space – alongside their toddler and baby.
The Sutton Coldfield house has just four rooms – a kitchen, lounge, bathroom and single bedroom, which has been given to Freddie, Catherine’s seven-year-old who has ADHD and requires a separate space to sleep.
Each night, the couple pull out a sofa bed where they sleep alongside toddler Cody and put Lola, one, in her cot for the evening, with all the lights turned out at 7pm in a bid to get the little ones to drift off.
This early night routine leaves them no time to do housework, relax or study in the evenings, as any sort of light or noise disturbs the kids.
Catherine and Shane are on Birmingham City Council’s housing register but say there are always around 100 people in the queue ahead of them, despite being placed into priority band 2 (deemed for people who ‘need to move’) almost 12 months ago.
“It’s a nightmare, really hard on everyone,” said Catherine, who worked in a nursery before going on maternity leave and is now trying to get her qualifications to become a mobile nail technician.
“We don’t get much sleep. I try to have a routine but we haven’t got any separate space. I can’t put the lights on or do anything to make any noise. If I go into the kitchen, it disturbs the children even more as it’s so nearby.
“It means we can’t get any jobs done, put the TV on or do the washing up, I have to do it in the morning. We just spend the evenings trying to settle the children. It’s stressful.
“Lola sleeps in a cot at the moment but she’s getting bigger now and I don’t know where she’s going to sleep.”
Sadly, Freddie’s condition means he has meltdowns and can become aggressive.
“I’ve tried to put Cody in a bunk-bed in with Freddie but Freddie ends up trashing his bedroom and throwing things around,” she said.
“He struggles to get to sleep at night so ends up jumping around instead.”
Being on the third floor, there’s no outdoor space for the children to play, to store bikes or to hang out washing. It’s also makes life difficult for grocery shopping for a family of five too.
“We are reaching breaking point,” said Catherine, whose partner Shane has autism, ADHD and dyspraxia and was training to be a HGV driver before the pandemic struck. He is currently out of work.
“Freddie goes to after school clubs twice a week as the school recommended that it would be better for him to use his energy and play outdoors instead of always being stuck in the flat as he becomes stressed and anxious, which affects his behaviour.
“He can’t have friends over because we just don’t have room, even though he keeps asking, which makes me feel really bad. I try to avoid parents at the school because I feel embarrassed about how we’re living.
“I have to hang the washing around the flat because there’s no outside space to dry it. When we get up in the morning, we pack up the sofa bed and put the duvets and pillows into storage bags next to the sofa because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
“Living on the third floor is a huge struggle with three children, especially during a fire alarm when I am alone.”
There is no room for storage in the tiny flat so the family can only keep a minimal amount of items in their three wardrobes with boxes piled on top.
“We have to declutter everything, all our clothes and toys, and go to the tip or charity shops and ask family to store our things at least every couple of months,” she said.
“I don’t even have room to store Christmas decorations or things like teddies for the children, everything is just boxed up and stored elsewhere.
“There are just lots of basic, normal things that are a struggle. I have to keep all of our toiletries and make-up in a unit in the living room with a lock to stop the children getting to them.
“Even silly things like washing my hair, I have to make time to do things like that during the day because I can’t dry my hair at night in the same room when we’re trying to get the children to sleep, which makes it harder for me to keep on top of housework and adds to my stress.
“My plan was to eventually train as a nail technician and be self-employed. I saved up and bought the equipment and supplies I needed and paid for an online course, but I just have no time and no separate space for myself to focus on training, as we’re turning all the lights off from 7pm onward to get the children to sleep, so there is no time for me to concentrate on it.
“I’d like to be able to work from home or become a mobile technician in the future but I can’t train properly with the way we are living, which is having even more impact on my mental health because I want to do better for myself and the children but I just feel stuck.”
Shane has lived in the house for eight years, and Catherine moved in back in 2019 when her mum married and moved out of the house in which she was living.
They have been trying to move house via various housing associations and even other councils since.
“The housing association said I should have gone into a hostel but I couldn’t do that with Freddie so I moved in with Shane,” said Catherine.
Cody was just a baby when the pandemic struck and Lola was born post-Covid, which has been really isolating for Catherine.
“It’s been very isolating as it’s so hard to go out,” she said. “We don’t have any family around. My family are in Dudley and Shane’s family are in Northfield. We don’t really know anyone around here. We asked for help from the Early Help Team and a support worker has been trying to help with Freddie’s medication but that’s all.
“We’re on the transfer list but there aren’t any three bedroom properties and the council is saying we’re not likely to get one.
“We have tried so many options and are running out of hope. We have written to our local MP and have applied to several housing associations. We are bidding every week on Birmingham Choice but we are still 100+ in the queue, despite our circumstances and my son’s needs.
“We truly feel like everyday we are just surviving rather than living our lives.”
A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: “Birmingham City Council would always encourage people in housing need to talk to their current landlord to see if they are able to assist.
“Properties that become available to the City Council are advertised through our choice based lettings scheme, and those on the register need to bid for suitable properties, these are then allocated to the household that bids with the greatest housing need.
“If applicants consider that it is taking too long we advise they look at other options. To help with renting in the Private Rented Sector we have introduced a new scheme with Help2Rent, an organisation that makes housing simple for tenants and landlords and provides incentives to landlords who offer 12-month fixed tenancies to those on the Council’s homeless and housing registers. More information about Help2Rent is on our website.”