A single mum-of-three has spoken of her 'hell' after a devastating blaze at her neighbour's house left her homeless and struggling to feed her three children.
Natalie Oakes, mum of Delilah, nine, Harvey, seven, who has autism, and Mila, three, along with neighbour Millie have been living out of a suitcase since the blaze broke out, near Nantwich in Cheshire.
The fire broke out in a neighbouring property on August 10, causing serious damage, and also causing structural and smoke damage to Millie and Natalie's homes. The properties have been left uninhabitable until safety checks and any necessary repairs are made.
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After the blaze, firefighters had been unable to get in touch with the Peaks and Plains Housing Trust which owns Natalie's house and part-owns Millie's through the shared ownership scheme, leaving the pair homeless with nowhere for them and the three children to sleep, Cheshire Live reports.
"We are going through hell right now," Millie said.
Firefighters contacted a local homeless shelter following the blaze where the two friends and children were able to have a shower and get some sleep. The friends, who were also given hot chocolates and had their phones charged by the kind-hearted firefighters, have since been moved around various different accommodation.
They sofa surfed at houses of friends or relatives for a few nights as well as being found some hotel accommodation by the housing association but claim this was wholly unsuitable for a family with young children, one of whom has autism.
Millie added: "It's been over a week now and we are really struggling. Natalie and I have stuck together to support each other and the kids through this. We have one car between us as my car might be written off due to fire damage. We are not even allowed in our homes.
"The kids are absolutely shattered because they don't know where they are sleeping from one day to the next. They are struggling. We think someone has stolen Harvey's tablet with his games on it, which is awful as he really enjoys using it. The kids are back in school on September 6 and we need to return to work."
The two friends say their hotel experiences have been a "nightmare", with no record of the booking when they arrived at their first hotel. They say another hotel offered a cramped airless room with windows that didn't open, leaving the family worried about overheating and having to take the children out to air conditioned shops to try to cool them down.
Neither of the hotel rooms had any sort of cooking or washing facilities, they say. Millie said that this, combined with the fact that they were fast running out of money and had been unable to rescue much from their homes before they left, meant it was a miserable existence.
They have ended up paying around £800 in expenses due to being homeless and having to get food which doesn't need to be cooked for the children for their breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
The housing association had given Millie £50 and Natalie £100 to help meet living costs, which they claim has left them having to focus their resources on making sure the children are well fed at the expense of themselves.
"We have to get the kids breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there's no cooking facilities," Millie said. "We were trying to go to pubs to get the kids their meals but now it is so expensive. After all we've been through, Peaks and Plains are now making things harder for us. We have even sent an email to the chief executive."
Millie claimed she had been told 'are you not grateful that you have been given somewhere to stay?' when speaking to the association and said she believed they should be more understanding of the situation.
Millie said that she and Natalie had been appalled with what they feel has been a lack of support and and seeming lack of any sense of urgency from Macclesfield-based Peaks and Plains Housing Trust. They even pleaded with the trust to put them up in Airbnb accommodation at one point, where they could have had access to cooking and washing facilities.
They have ended up being rehoused temporarily in accommodation in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, where Millie, Natalie, and Natalie's three children, say they have had people banging on the doors at night. Natalie's three dogs, Blaze, Bean and Bow, are being cared for by people in Nantwich and Liverpool, while Millie's beloved spaniel Otis is being looked after by her mum in Leicestershire.
Millie added: "We've finally been found a house but it's in Burslem, 35 minutes away, which is costing us a lot in fuel. Natalie and I are also having to share a bed so the children have a bed of their own.
"We've had people banging on the windows. We are exhausted and we said that until they start breaking in then we'll just leave it and they did just move on in the end."
The pair have praised those who had rallied round to help them after the terrifying incident, saying they found some solace in the fact that there were kind and caring people in the world, despite all they were going through.
A gofundme has been set up by a neighbour to try to raise some money to cover some of the basic costs of living in temporary accommodation and this can be found at www.gofundme.com.
Cheshire Live has contacted Peaks and Plains Housing Trust for comment.
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