100,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. Thankfully, you won’t see them on the streets. Councils have a duty to find children that have nowhere to live somewhere to sleep.
But increasingly, councils are forced to place more and more homeless families into the most insecure and inappropriate emergency accommodation. This can be anything from cramped bed and breakfasts to hostels; places where families might have no cooking facilities. They could be squashed into a single room, and sharing a bathroom with dozens of strangers. This is no place for a child.
What will Christmas be like this year?
Imagine trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. You know that instead of dreaming about Father Christmas, your children are staring at the ceiling. They’re kept awake by families in other rooms shouting or banging doors. Or it might even be drunken residents fighting outside your window.
Imagine cooking Christmas dinner in a microwave balanced on your one chest of drawers. The only place to sit and eat it is the bed in your single room. Then, spending the afternoon walking around in the cold – the hostel is closed for cleaning.
This is the reality faced by a growing number of families in Britain. Today, we’re publishing new research based on the experiences of twenty homeless families living in emergency accommodation. They shared their fears about the impact of homelessness on their children – from bed-wetting and constant crying, to self-harm. We heard their concerns that their children are falling behind at school, left exhausted by broken sleep and long school runs.
One parent even takes a different bus into town now, because the old route upset her children when it ran by their old home.
On top of this, these families worry about what their children see each day. This includes fighting, drug use, and strangers invading their room at night. It left some mums made homeless after fleeing domestic violence wondering if they’d done the right thing by leaving, given the impact on their children.
‘My six year old has been going to the doctors because he’s developed a nervous tick since we’ve been in that room. He’s really anxious. He’s become violent to his little sister and he was never like that before…. It’s so upsetting to watch the way he’s changed.’ (S, 30, Mum)
Make no mistake. They might be out of sight, but these children bear the brunt of Britain’s housing crisis. But you can do something to help – help give them the security they deserve.
Why are there homeless children?
Councils do their best. But we don’t have enough affordable housing. We’re only building half the homes we need each year, while the number of genuinely affordable homes falls.
Combined with growing house prices, the shortage of affordable homes pushes more families into the private rented sector. It’s unstable. The single leading cause of homelessness is the end of private tenancies. There’s nothing in law that stops landlords asking families to leave come the end of their short-term fixed tenancy. It doesn’t matter if they’ve always paid their rent on time, been in that home for years, and been model tenants. And if they can’t find anywhere else affordable then many have no choice but to turn to the council for help.
What makes it all harder is growing rent costs – combined with cuts to social security. They’ve removed the safety net that many low-income families need to cover costs. And even if they can pay rent each month, it’s often impossible to find thousands of pounds for a deposit and rent in advance. That’s often what it takes to set up a new home when a tenancy ends.
‘[Our] landlord wanted to sell the flat we were privately renting and we couldn’t afford another £2,500 (for a deposit) to rent again, we just didn’t have the money. I work but I don’t earn that much.’ (D, 21, Mum)
What struck many of the families we interviewed was how sudden homelessness can be – that’s why your donations are so important. Their lives were turned upside down when their tenancies ended. The struggle to find new homes left them in temporary accommodation, relying on friends and family to store their possessions. All the while, they had to protect their children from the situation. One parent said:
‘Your whole life crumbles around you. Your whole world. You’re worried about your children. I was worried about everything. I can’t put into words, because there aren’t any words. Shock, disbelief, terror. Everything, it is your worst nightmare come true – someone coming in and locking your front door so you can’t go back in there. Seeing your child sobbing.’ – (S, 45, Mum)
What can fix this?
The situation won’t improve until we address Britain’s affordable homes shortage. The government must build thousands more truly affordable, stable for families on low and average incomes. This must include low-cost homes for rent.
We need more stability within the private rented sector – helping families raise their children in secure homes. And a safety net that works, so that losing your job or a rise in rent doesn’t mean losing your home. We must ensure funding for local authorities is enough to provide suitable temporary accommodation for families when the worst happens.
But first, we must reach these 100,000 children facing homelessness this Christmas.
This is what Shelter advisers do day in, day out. Our expert legal advisers work directly with homeless families to try and stop them ever becoming homeless in the first place. Our help can literally make the difference between a family losing their home or not.
If the worst happens, we fight so they can find and settle into a safe, secure place to live… Somewhere they can start their life again. As one parent told us:
‘I just felt ill the whole time I was there. My family kept saying ‘you look really sick.’ It was only when Shelter helped me that I felt remotely better.’ (S, 30, Mum)
But as the number of homeless children grows, so does the need for our services. This is why we’re launching an emergency appeal today.
100,000 children shouldn’t be homeless – let alone at Christmas.
We’re fighting to make sure they aren’t. Please give generously.