The National Lottery Community Fund supports Shelter’s work with homeless families

Published: by Harvey Marcus

A baby reading a book

Thanks to National Lottery players, Shelter’s Family Services in Bristol, Sheffield and East London have received £1.4 million over three years from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest community funder in the UK.

The funding will be used to improve local services and support long-term systemic change to tackle child homelessness. This support is vital at a time when 142,490 children are homeless – up 16,960 (14%) in a year. And behind these shocking statistics are stories of family life being torn apart by homelessness.  

Aisha’s story

Aisha (not her real name) had one such story, which she told us when we met her in 2022. Aisha exudes warmth when she walks into a room, and especially when she talks about her kids – from her youngest napping in the pram next to us to her eldest starting in a secondary school across town. Sometimes, while telling her story, her eyes fill with tears, but more often she laughs, thinking back to how bad things got for her compared to where she is now.

I couldn’t believe there were people like Shelter, my friends were telling me how lucky I am, there are no other organisations like this around to help me.

The first time we met Aisha, she was living in temporary accommodation, sharing a kitchen, one toilet and a shower with several other people, some with mental health and substance misuse issues. She couldn’t let her children go to the toilet alone and would stand guard by the toilet door. ‘How can this be a place for a family?’, she asks us now.  

Aisha won’t be easily beaten by the system. For ten years she had been an asylum seeker – a decade of waiting and wasted life before being granted permission to remain in the country. So she knew from direct experience how slowly things could move. But this time was different, this time felt like an emergency because now her kids were suffering the consequences of a broken system alongside her, sitting like prisoners in a tiny, mouldy room, with no end in sight.

With no safety and no home, Aisha’s mental health plummeted, and her children’s development fell way behind. Her eldest was bullied at school because of their situation, and soon Aisha found that her resilience that had helped her cope over the last ten years had completely dried up. 

That was when Aisha met Lucy, Shelter’s Family Support Worker. Now, for the first time, Aisha had someone to listen to everything she was going through – not just about the homelessness, but about her mental health, her children’s trauma and relationships with her and each other, and about her son being bullied. Where before the many agencies she had tried to get help from had isolated each issue, Shelter looked at the whole constellation of issues around the family. ‘I wasn’t a case to Lucy,’ she says, with emphasis on the word she had heard all too often. ‘We weren’t a case anymore.’  

Lucy saw not just Aisha’s problems, but also her strengths – her personal strength and resilience despite her circumstances, her absolute commitment to her children’s wellbeing, and her network of friends. Using these strengths and Lucy’s knowledge of housing law, she helped Aisha challenge the local authority. In a matter of weeks, Aisha was viewing a social housing property that meant an end to her family’s homelessness and was a base for them to build a new life.  

Lucy also put Aisha in touch with Jane, our DIY Skills Adviser (DIYSA) who taught Aisha painting and decorating skills, meaning her children could have their own rooms that were decorated for the first time in their lives. 

And Lucy’s support went further still. When Aisha’s son was due to start secondary school, she heard that she needed to get him a uniform. Laughing as she remembers, she says ‘I kept hearing this word “blazer…blazer” I said to myself, what is this blazer? In my English classes they never said this word, we never had this thing in my home country. Is it a tie or a hat? And I started to get so worried again thinking, how can I help my son get ready for school? But I talked to Lucy and she clapped her hands together, “Don’t worry, we’ll get it sorted.” And she did. She sorted it!’  

Towards the end of our time with her, Aisha remembers when Lucy took her and her son on the public bus to his new school, getting him to write the bus number down, pointing out the landmarks along the way for when he would need to get off, and the places to turn and cross the road on the walk from the stop to school. A simple act of support, but transformative to Aisha and her son. Because now, whatever else had happened in the day, Aisha knew that her son would find his way back home. 

Thanks to the support of the National Lottery Community Fund, hundreds more families like Aisha’s will be able to get the advice and support they need.

Get support with your own housing issue by visiting our trusted online advice; read more about our trusts and foundations, or help us continue to deliver our vital services by donating today.