London

Home away from home for Londoners at Christmas

For most people, Christmas is all about home and family.

But for some, this year's festive season will be spent somewhere unfamiliar.

Flat set ablaze in the riots

Nawaz Phansopkar does not have much to celebrate this year.

On 8 August, the 43-year-old had sat down with his wife and four daughters to break their Ramadan fast when the parade of shops below their flat on London Road, West Croydon, was attacked by looters.

At the time, the family was watching footage on television of the Reeves furniture store being set ablaze.

Image caption The Phansopkar family had lived in this flat for 10 years

Mr Phansopkar said: "That's when we realised that anything could happen and they don't care."

Then the rioters started a fire at Londis, directly below the rented flat where the family had lived for 10 years.

"A group of local children saw the flames and shouted: 'Get out, get out'.

"The whole block was emptied as within two to three minutes the whole place was filling up with smoke."

He only had time to grab a bag, which he later found contained nothing more than their passports.

They lived with a cousin for weeks, sleeping on the floor, before Mr Phansopkar found a flat to rent, 10 minutes from his old home.

His wife, Hayatbi, 40, said their youngest daughter was a few months old when they had moved into the original flat.

"The children grew up there. It was our home," she said.

Lost in the fire was gold jewellery the couple had been preparing for their older daughters' weddings.

Image caption Nawaz and Hayatbi Phansopkar managed to escape the flat with only with their passports

Mrs Phansopkar said: "We didn't think there would be a fire so we didn't have time to remove anything.

"I cried so much when I saw the house the next morning", she added remembering the charred shell.

Mr Phansopkar, who works as a dispenser in a pharmacy, said they are trying to move on.

"Last year it was snowing, we were out on the streets playing.

"Up to that point life was fantastic and suddenly it turned black, like a big hole in our lives.

"We are hoping in the new year the compensation [for riot victims] comes through," he added.

'Miracle' after living rough

Shay, 22, as she wants to be known, is a single mother of a two-year-old and until recently a homeless law student.

She said her landlady harassed her for months and then in September she came home one day to find the locks had been changed and their clothes and documents burned.

She had stopped living in the house since July, "stressed by the harassment", but she said she was paying the rent. Her mother took in her son.

"For about four months I was sleeping from one sofa to another.

"Come September I was homeless, staying in an abandoned warehouse in a caravan and I would have to go to friends' houses to shower.

"My son and I were thrown out of the home like dogs and that's when the council intervened," Shay said.

Shay approached the homeless charity Shelter and was finally housed in east London in November.

But her experience has made her wary and she does not want to give out her real name or address.

"This Christmas will be much better, even though it is temporary accommodation.

"From July this year I have been stressed and depressed and I lost hope half-way through it all.

"I thank God that my son and I have found a home before Christmas. My miracle has come.

"For people who don't have a place to live, especially at this time of the year, it is really a sad and hurtful thing," she added.

Shay has decorated her house for Christmas and plans to invite her mother and brothers for dinner.

"And just be happy that I made it through the things I faced in 2011 and start fresh in 2012."

A recent report by Shelter found one in every 111 homes are at risk of eviction and those living in London were most at risk.

Twelve London boroughs were at the top of the list with the highest eviction threats reported in Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Haringey.

'Love, warmth and hope'

Kai Wargalla, a student from Bremen, Germany, has given up her flat to join the protesters camped outside St Paul's.

The masters student is also taking a break from studying sustainable economy for the time being.

Image caption Kai Wargalla said the camp outside St Paul's Cathedral is now her home

The 27-year-old has been involved with the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest since its planning stages in September and was one of the first people to settle in the camp on 15 October.

"I usually would spend Christmas at home with my family in Bremen. We have dinner, but we usually do not buy presents for each other but spend the day together.

"So I'm definitely going to miss them, I miss them already.

"I told my family a month ago that I won't be home for Christmas as I was convinced we would still be here."

Her parents and older brother are supportive as "they know I am committed to what I am doing".

She said: "I was living in a flat-share in south London but since 15 October I have been here full-time so I gave up my flat.

"All I have now is my tent, my air mattress, a few blankets, love, warmth and hope."

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