THE BLOG
18/10/2015 14:31 BST | Updated 18/10/2016 06:12 BST

Homeless Children - The True Cost of the UK's Economic Crisis

When they think back to their younger days, most people think about their childhood home, the sights, the smells, the family they lived with. But the sad truth is there are many children who may never get the chance to make those memories.

There are currently almost 100,000 homeless children in the UK and the numbers are at a six year high. Hidden away in temporary accommodation that risks their physical, mental and emotional health, these children represent the true cost of the country's economic crisis.

The UK is facing a serious housing shortage which, on top of depleted benefits, rising house prices and significant levels of unemployment, has left thousands of families literally without a roof over their heads. Children are forced to live in temporary housing or B&Bs, often crammed into single rooms without any kitchen facilities and sharing bathrooms with other families.

The impact on children's health can be immense. With little more than shared mattresses on the floor, they can become severely sleep deprived, while the lack of cooking facilities leaves them malnourished. Crammed together in small, often unhygienic spaces, infection is rife - and spreads fast as families are moved from place to place.

The situation can have appalling consequences for children's mental health too. With no sense of permanence, many live in a constant state of anxiety. School can be an isolating experience as homeless children face bullying and ridicule from their peers, sparking a variety of issues from social problems to depression and self-harm.

These conditions form building blocks for children's futures, leaving them seriously behind in terms of both health and education. Such problems do not disappear in adulthood but rather grow and evolve leading to more serious health issues, and difficulties in finding work and developing healthy relationships. Growing up homeless leaves children at a huge disadvantage - from which a considerable proportion never recover.

As nurses, we have a front row seat to the consequences of poverty and homelessness on children's health. School nurses, for example, play a key role in supporting children with difficult home lives, whilst health visitors and practice nurses also do all they can to help children who need them. However, it will take much more than this to solve the crisis. A school nurse requires the support of education staff to highlight children who may be struggling, health visitors need to work in partnership with housing services to ensure families have access to regular services.

More resources are crucial, together with a strategic plan for how they can be used to improve conditions as much as possible. Health services need the capacity to work strategically with local authorities, housing departments and schools to form cohesive plans for homeless children in order to give them the best possible start in life.

Every single child deserves a safe home in which to grow and develop. It is vital that the Government lifts its head out of the sand and begins to address this problem if we have any hope of saving these children from scarred childhoods and troubled adult lives.