A HOMELESS couple have spent eight months living in their car despite being allocated a council flat which is currently empty.
Aram Sarbir, 47, and his wife Shahla Qadir, 28, have been inhabiting their 12-year-old Ford Mondeo since they were forced out of their privately rented flat in February.
They applied for help from the Norwich City Council after finding it âimpossibleâ to find privately rented accommodation that they could afford.
Officials made them a priority case as Aramâs 11-year-old daughter from his former marriage likes to stay with him three or four times a week, and the remainder of the time with her mother.
But despite being allocated an empty two bedroom council flat in March, they have not yet been handed the keys because of a delay in making it ready for them to move in.
Aram, who manages a local shop, is baffled about the amount of time they have been forced to wait.
He said: âI cannot understand it. The council just need to take out a cupboard and an old sofa and do a bit of tidying up.
âI would gladly do the work myself if I could move in straight away â but that is not allowed. I just cannot see why it is taking so long. I am not happy about it.
âThey said it would be one or two weeks â but it has been more than seven months.
âI keep saying to them, âJust let me inâ, and I ask, âIs there some problem?â They will not even let me bid for a different place as I have been given this one.â
Without cooking facilities of their own, the couple have been largely surviving on KFC meals and kebab takeaways.
The only respite they have had is sleeping occasionally on friendsâ sofas, and using their showers.
They have also been thankful for spending some evenings with a friend and a girlfriend in his one bedroom flat although there is not enough room for them to stay the night.
The couple now fear their uncomfortable living arrangements will become âintolerableâ if they are still living in the car when temperatures plunge during winter.
Aram added: “My daughter has not been able to stay with me because she cannot sleep in the car.
âShe wants to come and stay, but she has to stay with her mum. There’s no place for her to live with me.
âSometimes I will pick her up from school and take her for KFC or she will visit me at work, but she’s 11 years old that’s not nice for her.Â
âI care for my daughter she should be able to stay with me. I don’t want to lose her, I don’t want her to forget about me. I don’t care about myself, it’s my daughter and wife I care about.â
Aram who is Kurdish and has lived in the UK for 23 years since fleeing Saddam Husseinâs regime, said he had made numerous pleas to the council to try and speed things up.
On one day, he claims he called 33 times before he was able to speak to a case worker.
He and his wife had to leave their privately rented flat in February after his landlord fell behind with mortgage payments, despite them always paying their Â£600 a month rent on time.
Aram said: âI lived in my last place for seven years without any problem â but then the landlord had this problem with his mortgage and had to go to court.
âThe court apparently told him to give me three months notice, but didnât tell me anything and I was still paying the rent
âThen in February, I had people knocking on my door telling me I had just seven days to get out. There was nothing I could do about it.”
‘NOWHERE TO GO’
Aram tells of how he was forced to move into the car because of the short notice.
He continued: âWe had no choice, but to move into the car because there was nowhere else to go, and we could not find anywhere to rent privately
âWe had to go to the council, and they made me fill in an application form. Then I was invited to bid on a flat.
âIt was a nice place and we got given it, but now we have got this long delay before we get the keys and we are left living in the car.â
Aram said his wife had suffered a miscarriage six months ago while living in the car, and needed hospital treatment.
He has also had medical problems and needed surgery on an ingrowing toenail.
Aram said: âIt is uncomfortable sleeping in the car. I stay in the front and my wife lies on the back seat with blankets over us.
âIt is difficult to move and I think it has made my medical problems worse. It is no good for my back, legs and shoulders. It is very hard.”
He noted how in the summer it was manageable, but now it is getting cold it is far more dificult.
Aram continued: âWe can spend evenings with my friend and his girlfriend, but they only have a one bedroom flat and they have a baby.
âWe can watch TV and sometimes have a barbecue with them, but we cannot stay the night.
âI have not told my family back in Iraq how we are living. In my culture, being homeless is bad. It makes me feel shame.â
He added: âI have never in my life claimed benefits and I have always believed in supporting myself. You need to look after yourself in life.
âI worked in a car wash before I got the shop, so I have always earned money. It is just that I do not earn enough for a private place.â
Green Party councillor Jamie Osborn has raised the couple’s plight with council officers in a bid to get the problem fixed.
He said: âIt is unacceptable that anyone is having to live in a car while council homes are standing empty.
âThe council urgently needs to get on top of this problem so people who have been promised houses are not left homeless for months.
âGreen councillors have consistently raised concerns about the backlog in repairs to council housing and yet there seems to be no sign of improvement.
âWe are demanding that the Labour-run council immediately sets out a plan for how it’s going to learn from its mistakes and get much-needed housing back into use.â
A city council spokeswoman said: âWeâve been very open about the fact that our repairs backlog has created some unacceptable delays.
âThis is exactly why we appointed additional contractors to address this and they are making good progress to reduce the backlog.
âWe were upfront about the fact that we didnât expect the backlog to be cleared before the end of the year.
âWork is under way at Mr Sarbirâs property and weâve been in touch directly to reassure him and let him know about moving in timeframes.â
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