Zana Pazeraite, 32.
“I got back from having my baby in hospital to find we were being evicted three days later.”
“It was my partner’s dream to come here, he was really excited about coming here because he’d never been abroad before and he became obsessed about it, about moving to a new, better life abroad I came to England in 2006, when I was 28 with my eldest daughter, who is 11 years old now, and my partner. I was looking for better prospects and I wanted to settle down here.
It was a better lifestyle here than in Lithuania, it was easier to find a job. At home I’d been working in a small chocolate factory although there wasn’t much work.
I started off working in cafés, in short term work, moving from one job to another. I was living in East London then, in Hackney I found a job in a Lithuanian restaurant close to where I lived and it was good.
My partner was doing temporary, short-term jobs as a painter and decorator which he had 10 years experience doing in Lithuania.
I worked really long hours, sometimes 15 hours a-day. I was coming home really late and really tired. And you come home and think: ‘now I’ve got to get a few hours sleep and go to work again’.
In spring 2008 my partner had been working when he had a terrible accident. I didn’t know about it because he just disappeared. I didn’t know what had happened to him. I didn’t see him for five or six weeks. When I eventually got in touch with him I found out he’d had this accident and had memory loss and terrible damage. He had big pieces of his life missing from his head. We never really found out for sure what happened to him because of the damage to his memory. He had therapy to try to remember and the doctors though he’d been hit over the head with maybe a piece of wood or some kind of blunt instrument. It was thought he’d been attacked and beaten up but we never knew for sure.
So I had to look after him. Things were difficult for me, working long hours and looking after my daughter and my partner. It was like a nightmare, I couldn’t really stand it.
My daughter’s school became concerned that my daughter may be being neglected and they contacted social services. So I had to explain to them that I was working such long hours and looking after my partner as well as my daughter. It was really difficult to explain, to make them understand how difficult things were.
On one occasion I was really late leaving work and I had to pick up some medicine from the doctor so I asked my partner to pick it up. And he went just round the corner to the clinic but he left my daughter at home on her own. And when I got home the social worker was there on an unannounced visit and she was shouting and screaming at me, threatening to call the police and have my daughter taken into care. And I didn’t have any chance to explain. They arranged a case conference where the social worker explained I had left my daughter alone and I was feeling really, really bad. I had to tell them I was pregnant as well. They put so much pressure on me that I had no choice but to leave my job to take care of my daughter.
So I couldn’t provide for my family anymore. My partner tried really, really hard to find work but by this time there was the big crisis, the recession, so there were no jobs. My partner did some temporary work like leafleting, but these things don’t last long and don’t provide much money. So we lived by my savings, just a little bit of money I had. It was really difficult for him because after the accident he was learning skills all over again, learning things step-by-step.
Eventually, within months, we had no money at all. We couldn’t afford to pay any rent. We had been sub-letting off a tenant but his contract ended and he moved out. We stayed there for a while but the landlord eventually sent some men round.
They turned up threatening me and really, really intimidating us to leave. I thought, “My God, what am I going to do, I have a child”, and by now I was like 8 months pregnant as well. I told the men that they have to go through the legal procedure to get us out but they said they wouldn’t go through the courts, they said we just had to leave, no matter what, otherwise they would come back with 20 men and throw me out. I was so shocked and scared, I felt so threatened and stressed I didn’t know what to do. I had no friends to help me.
I ended up out on the street, 8 months pregnant with an 11 year old daughter. I went to the police station and asked them where I could go for help. The officer wasn’t very nice to me. She was like, “How could you end up like this?” But things like this happen every day to people. You don’t expect to end up in this situation, but who is she to judge me?
The police sent me to a hostel in Stratford and said to go to the council first thing Monday morning to see my case-worker. So I spent the weekend in the hostel.
On Monday at the council I explained the situation. They just took the hostel keys from me and looked at me really, really angry and asked me, “Who’s going to pay for the hostel?” I was speechless. That’s all they had to say. They just said, “Go wherever you like.” They wouldn’t give me any emergency housing or anything at all.
The council told me I wasn’t eligible for help because you have to have been working for more than a year in this country. But I had been working at the restaurant for a year and a half but on the papers the owner had only registered me for 8 months. That’s why the council wouldn’t help me and why I wasn’t entitled to housing benefits. They said there was nothing they could do.
After this I went to a crisis centre. They put me in touch with the Advisory Service for Squatters. I met up with some people from a squat. They were all really shocked about my story, how I’d been illegally evicted and everything. And they were really friendly to me and tried to help me in any way they could. I stayed with them for a week. They were planning to open a new squat near Green Lanes in Hackney where there was a whole building empty with maybe just 4 or 5 tenants there. But most of the building had been empty for about 5 years.
We moved into the new squat after it had been opened up last December. We settled down there and we all worked really, really hard sorting the place out. But someone had been calling the police constantly, telling them we were destroying the building. But we weren’t, we were just taking rubbish out of the flats.
We spent about three weeks in the squat before we were evicted. I’d been to hospital to have my baby and when I got back we’d been served court papers telling us we were being evicted three days later. I was so shocked. I just cried because my baby was so small and I just didn’t know what to do.
I’d been in touch with The London Coalition Against Poverty campaign group who had taken up my case. We sent letters to the council and they found me a solicitor who has been really brilliant with my case. Now Waltham Forest Council have provided me with temporary accommodation.
But the stress of the situation was too much strain on our relationship so eventually my partner and I split up.
The situation’s still going on, they are still asking me to provide documents and it feels like they are just trying to push me out, it just feels like it’s all still not finished. I’ve been getting really paranoid that they are going to take away this place, you know they give with one hand and take away with the other.
I just want a safe and secure place for my children, that’s all. I’m just trying to do my best.
I’ve learnt not to expect any help from the authorities. I feel like when they have power they can do anything to you. I’ve had more help and support from ordinary people who probably have the same kinds of problems as I do.”