A woman who was suspended by a council-owned organisation dealing with homelessness after she was found to be sleeping rough in a council garage has said Guardian readers who helped her and her son after reading about their plight had “made our Christmas”.
Readers offered to donate money and one had already paid a lump sum to clear Arleen Matthews’ debts. A firm had offered her 18-year-old son an internship, a supporter had set up an online donations page and another had started a petition calling for Matthews’ reinstatement.
Until her suspension, Matthews, 48, was working for Homes for Haringey, an arms-length management organisation owned by Haringey council in north London that looks after the council’s housing stock and manages its assessment of homelessness applications. Its website states: “We want to prevent homelessness whenever possible.”
Matthews’ job is to ensure the council’s housing estates, which house 16,000 tenants in 4,500 leasehold properties, are properly maintained. She had been living in private rented accommodation with her son, Kishur, but fell behind with the rent and was evicted.
Matthews said she was amazed to no longer have debt hanging over her.
“I’m overwhelmed by the support I have received,” she said. “People still have hearts and still have compassion. I woke up this morning with so much strength. Someone has granted me my dearest wish: to pay off my outstanding debts. That alone has made our Christmas.”
She said that when she and her son had nowhere else to go, they started sleeping in a garage on one of the estates she managed. When her employers discovered what she was doing they suspended her while they investigated possible breaches of health and safety codes for sleeping and storing personal belongings in the garage and misusing Homes for Haringey property.
Matthews had been due to face an investigatory meeting on Friday as part of Homes For Haringey’s disciplinary process, but it did not go ahead.
Her situation came to light when she and her son presented themselves as homeless to the council’s housing officials.
“I ran up rent arrears of £5,000,” she said. “I offered to pay off £3,000 but the landlord said I had to pay off everything in one go. I tried to do everything I could to resolve the situation but in the end we were evicted on 1 November and my son and I had nowhere to go. My husband died five years ago but I’m still paying off the cost of that and other debts he left.”
She said she offers of assistance had included an internship for Kishur with a Haringey employer.
A Homes for Haringey spokesperson said: “When Ms Matthews presented as homeless to us we placed her and her son in emergency, temporary accommodation, where she is still living. We are continuing to try and help Ms Matthews resolve her homeless situation.”