Homeless couple struggle to get housing – because they own a pet rat

Simon Crowson, of 50 BackPacks, has been helping a Wisbech couple living in a tent

A Wisbech couple currently living in a tent believe one of the reasons why they've been unable to get housing is because they have a pet rat. Simon Crowson, of 50 Backpacks, has been helping them throughout the cold weather. - Credit: Archant

A homeless couple in their 40s and living in a tent believe one of the reasons they struggle to get housing is because they own a pet rat.

They have been living under canvas within Wisbech for three-and-a-half years.

With the landowner’s permission, they have been in their make-shift home for nearly two years.

Simon Crowson of 50 BackPacks, visited them on Sunday before the Beast from the East II arrived.

With their consent, he released a video of a conversation he had with them without revealing their identities or where they are staying.

In the clip, Mr Crowson offers food, more tents and bedding. But they both insisted they were ready for the elements with a propane gas heater and had been stocking up on tinned food.

He said: “They’re living in absolutely horrible conditions. It is so muddy, dirty and damp where they are. Imagine trying to keep your clothes dry in this weather?

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He added: “In the camp, there was also a Zimmer frame as one of them has been struggling with serious mobility issues recently.

“Nobody should be living like this.”

Muddy and wet conditions a Wisbech couple are living in

A snapshot of the muddy and damp conditions the couple from Wisbech are living in. - Credit: Simon Crowson

Despite the couple saying they were fine, Mr Crowson said 50 BackPacks delivered new tents and bedding to help them through the freezing temperatures. He also phones them daily.

“To me, these people are clearly suffering with their mental health,” he said.

“They’ve accepted the situation they’re in and living in these circumstances has become normal for them. It’s so sad to see.”

On Wednesday (February 10), Fenland District Council has arranged a one-off seminar about homelessness for members of Wisbech Town Council. Afterwards, it will be available on YouTube.

Conservative councillors on the town council had originally rejected the idea for a homeless summit to help members gain an insight into the current situation in Wisbech.

A week later, Samantha Hoy, leader of the town council and Fenland District Council’s portfolio holder for housing announced just such a seminar will go ahead.

Councillors are hoping for an insight into the situation in Wisbech and to find out how those sleeping rough and on the streets are being supported.

Stock image of a pet rat. Picture: Kirsty Reeder.

A couple from Wisbech believe one of the reasons they can't get housing is because they have a pet rat. (Stock image) Picture: Kirsty Reeder. - Credit: Archant

In the video, the couple explain why they’ve haven’t been able to move on from the camp and that they didn’t know hotel rooms were available for the homeless in lockdown.

He said: “We’d need to go to Universal Credit if we started a housing benefit claim and that would more than half our money – and we just can’t afford to live that way.”

She added: “Through lockdown we were here the whole time. We didn’t know there was anything [available] even through lockdown.

“We didn’t know they were putting people into hotels. But we do have the rat – and that’s the problem.”

To which, Mr Crowson responded: “Even so. Other people live in houses with pets, and that’s true.”

Simon Crowson, known to all as Spike, runs 50 BackPacks in Wisbech

Simon Crowson, known to all as Spike, runs 50 BackPacks in Wisbech. Picture; HARRY RUTTER - Credit: Archant

Another issue is that the couple felt they had been offered no help from Fenland District Council.

But it’s thought outreach workers from the council may have visited during the first lockdown with food parcels from 50 BackPacks, but the couple were confused about who they were.

As the outreach workers were based at Change Grow Live, the drug and alcohol service in Wisbech, the couple didn't realise they actually represented the council.

Mr Crowson said: “This is another problem - the entire system is so complex.”

“Situations like this sadden me because the amount of funding available for rough sleepers is substantial – and it is not going to people who need it.

“My biggest gripe is that millions of pounds every year, and not just during Covid, is being spent on the same people over and over again who have been stuck in this complex system.

“I know of cases where you’ve got the same people going in and out of the same service for 20 years. They’re stuck in it, so I do question the help they are actually receiving.”

Did Mr Crowson think the couple were happy to live under canvas?

“Definitely, absolutely not,” he said. “One of their tents is ripped and where they are is muddy, cold and alarming.”

We invited Fenland District Council for a response earlier today (Tuesday) and that is awaited.