My childhood made me who I am. I was incredibly lucky then and, no surprise, I’m incredibly lucky now. And perhaps at Christmas I was luckiest of all. In our house, where we had enough space, security, safety, and comfort, there were always presents, a big tree, a delicious dinner.
In my job, I so often reflect on my own good fortune, because our frontline services at Shelter are almost overwhelmed with the suffering, fear, chaos, and trauma that homelessness causes in the lives of children and their families across the country. It is a national emergency. A child becomes homeless every eight minutes in Britain. That’s 183 children a day. Enough children to fill two and half double-decker buses.
Our childhoods make us who we are, and we carry childhood suffering with us. One child losing the safety of their home is heart-breaking, 183 a day is surely an utter disgrace that cries out for action.
Our new report ‘Generation Homeless’ reveals the overall number of homeless children in Britain currently stands at an unforgiveable 135,000 – the highest number in 12 years. No one should be ok with this.
Every day at Shelter, our frontline workers see the devastating impact of homelessness on children. Families who lose their homes and are forced to live in unsuitable temporary accommodation, sometimes for years on end with no certainty about their future. Parents having to make impossible, desperate choices. Children’s lives turned upside down every time their family is moved from one temporary place to the next. Children who can barely stay awake in class because they are so exhausted from having to sleep in one grotty B&B room with their whole family.
This misery is the consequence of decades of failure to build enough social homes, which has trapped millions in insecure, and grossly expensive private renting. There are currently over a million households on waiting lists for a social home, and yet a pitiful 6,287 new social homes were delivered last year – a figure which has actually fallen by 6% from the year before.
Add to this several years of government cuts to housing benefit and you’ve got all the ingredients for the housing crisis we see today – the effects of which are being felt by homeless children all over the country. In some parts of London, one child in every 12 is homeless. In Brighton it’s one in 30 and in Manchester one in every 47 children are without a home.
Homelessness is trauma, and trauma has lasting effects. If we let this continue, we must face the fact that we are blighting lives. I don’t believe we can allow more children to carry the effects of homelessness into adulthood. If 135,000 homeless children are not enough to focus the minds of the next government, then I don’t know what is.
Every day that passes without change has huge consequences. Between now and the general election on the 12 December another 1,647 children will be made homeless and 4,026 by Christmas Day. There is no time to waste.
That’s why we want every political party to commit to building the social homes that our country desperately needs. Political promises about ending homelessness will amount to nothing if we don’t have the homes for people to live in. You can’t end homelessness without homes. It really is as simple as that. We need at least 90,000 social homes a year over the next Parliament, and three million in the next 20 years. It’s been done before and it can be done again.
Until then, everyone can make a difference to the lives of homeless children today by supporting Shelter’s urgent Christmas appeal.
At Shelter we support children whose only wish for Christmas is a place to call home. We support parents who sit in the dark night after night as their children sleep and pray, that one day, they will again be able to give them the stability and security that I – and so many – took for granted. We stand by their side, we fight for their rights and we help them get to a better place – no matter how long it takes.
Join us in the fight against this heartless national emergency. Every donation, no matter how small, will help us to be there for the homeless families who need us right now.
Please donate to Shelter’s urgent Christmas appeal online or donate £3 by texting SHELTER to 70030. Texts cost your standard network rate + £3. Shelter receives 100% of your donation.