Shelter analysis of government statistics reveals that over 7,300 children will wake up homeless this Christmas day in the South East – a rise of a sixth in the last year.
And worryingly, with councils feeling the pressure of our affordable housing shortage, the number of families across Britain living in B&Bs – accommodation which is often cramped and unsafe for children – has more than trebled over the last five years.
Shelter is calling on the public for urgent support this Christmas, as its advisers struggle to cope with demand for help from the growing number of families battling to keep a roof over their heads.
To highlight the heart-breaking real life stories behind these shocking statistics, the charity has conducted research with 20 families living in B&Bs and hostels, uncovering the struggles they face every day.
Families reported living in unfit and often dangerous conditions, with reports of children seeing their parents being physically attacked, being exposed to drug and alcohol abuse, and having strangers enter their rooms without permission.
The majority of families interviewed said their children’s emotional wellbeing and development had been badly affected, with reports of bed-wetting, problems with speech, anxiety, and distress.
In some cases, the impact was so severe that parents reported that children developed worrying behaviours including one child who began to self-harm and a six year old boy who developed a nervous tick due to anxiety.
Many children were also fearful of their new surroundings and became tearful and clingy, not wanting to be in different rooms from their parents.
The investigation also revealed the conditions families were forced to live in and the range of effects it had on their children:
Half of parents said their child’s physical health had been negatively affected since living in the B&B or hostel Every family lived in a single room, often with children and parents having to share a bed Most families said their room was in a state of disrepair, and over half of families said their room was not secure
Most families had to eat meals on the floor or on their bed as very few had space for a table or a fit communal area to eat in Three quarters had to share toilets and washing facilities with other residents All families who shared a bathroom said they were in poor condition, including reports of unlockable doors, slippery or cracked tiles and dangling electrical wires
Case study: Francesca and her two children became homeless after her mother, who they were living with, unexpectedly became a guardian to two young family members and there was no longer room for her family. With nowhere else to go, they were forced to live in one room of a hostel for seven months.
“It was an incredibly difficult time for us. My daughter’s grades suffered because the baby would keep her up all night. It was also hard for her to keep her friendships going because she couldn’t bring any of them over to play.
“When you’re in a hostel it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a future, you can’t look ahead, you can’t see a way out. It’s like being in a big black hole and there’s no light. Luckily I spoke to an adviser from Shelter who eventually helped us find a better place to live. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t where we’d be now – we’re so grateful to have had their support.”
Alison Mohammed, Director of Services at Shelter: “There’s nothing more heart-breaking than hearing the voice of a parent who’s desperately trying to keep a roof over their children’s heads.
“But the sad fact is, almost every day, we hear from families who’ve fallen on hard times and found themselves living in a single cramped room of a B&B or hostel, unable to give their children the environment they need to grow and thrive in.
“Worrying about your child’s safety every day, eating dinners on the floor, and sharing beds – this is no way for a family to live. But sadly we know we’re going to have even more families coming to us who are facing the reality of Christmas without a place to call home.
“That’s why we urgently need the public’s support to help us make sure we can be there for more homeless families this Christmas.”
To support Shelter’s Christmas appeal please visit www.shelter.org.uk or text SHELTER to 70060 to donate £3.