Child homelessness appeal launched
Some 90,000 children will wake up homeless this Christmas in Britain, equating to three children for every school in the country, according to a report from Shelter.
An investigation by the charity highlighted the "severe emotional distress" suffered by many children living in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels, including reports from parents of children being depressed, self-harming, having panic attacks, wetting the bed, missing out on friendships and being unable to attend school .
The charity, which has launched an appeal asking the public to help it tackle a situation that it described as a "scandal", said some children were forced to eat their meals off the floor because living space was so tight, while others had to make three-hour round trips to get to lessons because their temporary accommodation was situated so far away from their school.
Shelter made its estimates for the number of children likely to be without a permanent home this Christmas using separate sets of Government figures covering England, Scotland and Wales.
It said the number of homeless families living in bed and breakfast accommodation in England alone has almost doubled in three years.
The charity also conducted an in-depth investigation with 20 families in England who are living in temporary accommodation or have recently moved out of it.
Thirteen families surveyed said they had felt unsafe in their accommodation, with some of the worst accounts including exposure to drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, swearing and racist language.
Shelter said the majority of families had to live in one room, share kitchen and bathroom facilities with strangers, and eat meals in their room on the bed or floor.
All the families surveyed said that living in temporary accommodation had left a negative impact on their relationships with family and friends and more than half said their children's mental or emotional health had been affected by their experiences, including reports of depression, panic attacks and wetting the bed.
Sixteen families reported their child's physical health had suffered and 12 said their children had found it harder to keep or make friends.
Four families said their children had to travel more than one and-a-half hours each way to get to school and two said their children had to miss school altogether.
Shelter highlighted the case of a woman named Felicia from London and her two children who lived in a B&B for over two months.
Felicia said: "My son became depressed for the first time in his life and wouldn't get out of bed, and my daughter even started self-harming. As a mother it was heartbreaking to see, but I felt so helpless because living in the B&B was our only option.
"Not only did we all have to share one room, it was impossible for either of them to go to school because we were placed so far away from where we used to live.
"If I hadn't found Shelter I don't know what we would have done, but thankfully they were able to help find us a more stable place to live."
People can find out more about supporting Shelter's appeal by visiting its website - shelter.org.uk.
Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb said: "No child should have to go through the trauma of losing their home, so it's heartbreaking to think that three children for every school in Britain will wake up homeless this Christmas.
"In the 21st century it cannot be right that homeless children are experiencing severe emotional distress, facing three-hour round trips to school and having to eat their dinner on the floor.
"These days it only takes one thing to push a family into a downward spiral which can end in homelessness, and we're bracing ourselves for an increase in demand from families who desperately need our help to keep a roof over their heads."
Communities Minister Kris Hopkins said: "This Government has increased spending to prevent homelessness, making over £500 million available to help the most vulnerable in society and have kept strong protections to guard families against the threat of homelessness.
"This is to ensure we don't return to the bad old days when homelessness in England was nearly double what it is today.
"Councils have a responsibility to move homeless households into settled accommodation as quickly as possible and we have changed the law so that they can place families in decent and affordable private rented homes. All this has meant statutory homelessness remains lower than in 27 of the last 30 years."