SHOCKING CRISIS: 128,000 kids homeless at Xmas

Families from the West Kensington and Gibbs Green council estates in west London won a victory last month in their campaign to stop the demolition of their homes
Families from the West Kensington and Gibbs Green council estates in west London won a victory last month in their campaign to stop the demolition of their homes

A SHOCKING 128,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas Day, a new report by Shelter revealed on Wednesday.

One in every 111 children is currently homeless, and with the country still at the mercy of a worsening housing crisis, 2017 has seen the highest numbers of homeless children in a decade.

At least 140 families become homeless every day, and in the last year alone, 61% of families helped by Shelter’s frontline services were homeless or on the brink of losing their home.

In response to such huge demand, the charity is calling on the public to help fund its frontline advisers by supporting its urgent Christmas appeal. To expose the devastating reality of homelessness, Shelter carried out in-depth interviews with children and their parents living in emergency B&Bs and hostels. This is widely considered the worst type of temporary accommodation.

In the unique investigation:

• Every family lived in a single room which significantly disrupts the children’s ability to play, do homework and carry out any kind of daily routine.

• A quarter of families had no access to a kitchen at all, and the rest had to make do with shared facilities.

Struggling to cook meals, more than half of parents said they rely on expensive and unhealthy takeaways.

And two-thirds had to eat family meals on the bed or floor of their room.

• Half of families had to share toilet and bathroom facilities with other households, often with filthy conditions and unlockable doors, meaning strangers could walk in at any moment.

• More than a third of parents had to share a bed with their children.

Three quarters say bedtimes have become difficult and half say their children are more tired.

In England, where the highest number of families are placed into B&Bs, 45% stay beyond the six-week legal limit.

The charity’s findings lay bare the psychological turmoil experienced by families living in these cramped conditions for often long periods of time, including:

• Three quarters of parents felt their children’s mental health had been badly affected.

One parent said her daughter had become suicidal since living in the hostel.

• Half of parents reported that their children’s physical health had also worsened, with incidents of bed bug infestations, and broken heating causing children to fall ill.

• Children spoke about feeling anxious, afraid and ashamed.

Several children described school as a respite.

For one it was the only place he felt happy, another felt stressed at the thought of returning to her accommodation at the end of the school day.

• Children also talked about their school work suffering because of long journeys to school each day, poor and broken sleep, and having no space or quiet-time to do their homework.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: ‘It’s a national scandal that the number of homeless children in Britain has risen every year since 2011. No child should have to spend Christmas without a home – let alone 128,000 children.

‘Many of us will spend Christmas Day enjoying all of the festive traditions we cherish, but sadly it’ll be a different story for the children hidden away in cramped B&Bs or hostel rooms.

‘Imagine living in a noisy strange place full of people you don’t know, and waking up exhausted from having no choice but to share a bed with your siblings or parents. That’s why our frontline advisers will continue to work tirelessly, including on Christmas Day, to help more families fighting homelessness. But we can’t do this alone. We’re asking people to help a homeless family and make giving to Shelter their new Christmas tradition.’

Case studies

• Twins Ellie and Amy, aged 15, are currently homeless and living in temporary accommodation. Until a few weeks ago they were living in a tiny hotel room which they shared with the rest of their family.

They had no access to a kitchen and only shared bathroom facilities, the twins also had to share a bed. Amy said: ‘We’re living in a B&B. It’s a small room with five people living in it. It’s got one double bed and one single bed. It’s not even a proper bed… it’s a camp bed.

‘Three people sleep in the double bed with one person at the bottom and two people at the top. And two in the single bed. I sleep next to my brother, he kicks. My mum talks in her sleep. There’s a tiny toilet with a shower but my brother doesn’t like showers because he’s autistic so he has to bath in a bucket. He stands in it and mum tips a cup over him. He screams if you try and put him in the shower.’

Ellie said: ‘It’s hard to concentrate at school because there’s the worry about coming home. It’s just stressful. There’s nowhere we can relax or get any privacy. Before it was much better. We had our own home right near school and right near our friends. We all had our own rooms and a cooker and a fridge. We could eat proper meals. I just want it to be like it was before.’

• Sarah, 40, is living in one room in a B&B with her husband and children, including her three-month old baby: ‘We sleep on the bed, they play on the bed, we eat on the bed. There’s just no place for anything.’

• For Geraldine, 45, and her 13-year-old daughter Hannah, living in an emergency B&B has taken a huge toll on their mental and emotional wellbeing: ‘My daughter has felt very suicidal. I took her to the GP. They’ve referred her to the psychologist. She’s constantly breaking down crying. I had to take her to A&E on two occasions because she’s having problems, she keeps getting palpitations. She shakes.’

• For Shauna, 13, who was living in a B&B with her parents and siblings, the shame she felt at being homeless impacted on her friendships at school: ‘I don’t tell them because in the end you can’t trust a friend… they could spread rumours about you. I can’t explain anything to anyone. I go to school with a smile on my face.’

• Natalie, 31, and her children have been in a hostel for almost a year and a half, they arrived last winter: ‘There was no heating here, so me and the kids were constantly getting ill. It was ridiculous. Watching your kids emotionally go through it can make you feel quite inadequate as a mother, a parent. You feel guilty, just watching your kids, sort of, suffer. You know, they suffer socially, they suffer at school, they suffer at an emotional level.’

• Nathan, 28, has been homeless for three months, and until recently was living in a Travelodge on the side of a motorway with his 16-month-old son, where he only had access to a kettle: ‘There’s milk and stuff, but there’s no microwave. It’s pretty hard to make food. I’ve got to get the jars and stick it in the kettle, and then put the kettle on to warm it up, so that’s the best way to feed him.’

• Louis, who lives with his family in temporary accommodation, shared with Shelter his letter to Santa. It read: ‘Dear Santa, Please can I have a forever home. I don’t want any new toys, I just want all of my old toys that are in storage and I would like my own lego bedroom with a desk to build my models. Everyone is sad living here and I just want us to be happy again.’