Homelessness is fast becoming an unwelcome Christmas tradition. New government figures, released last week, show that the number of children in Britain who face waking up homeless this Christmas has reached a staggering 109,000, as homelessness across the country continues to rise.
A quarter of all homeless households in England are sent to live in temporary accommodation in a different council area - and this figure has tripled over the last 5 years. In some cases this can mean being sent miles away from the place that you call home.
If you're not sent away from your local area, you often find yourself living in other unsuitable accommodation, such as hostels and Bed and Breakfast. The number of homeless families living in emergency B&B's has risen by 46% in a year - and there are now more homeless families living there than at any point since 2003. Here, a family is often squeezed into a single bedroom, and has to cope with sharing a bathroom and kitchen with complete strangers. This is no way for a family to spend Christmas day together.
All of this can have a devastating effect on families, especially on children who are moved from pillar-to-post; who have to change schools, adapt to a new home, and leave behind their friends and early childhood memories.
Andrea, a primary school teacher working in East London, told Shelter that, "the effects of homelessness on children can last a lifetime and cannot be underestimated. When you feel so insecure in where you live, it impacts on your relationships and on how you relate to other people. It not only makes children feel desperately sad, it affects their self-esteem so much that it's a huge barrier to them reaching their potential".
Andrea has also witnessed first-hand the devastating effects on children when they are sent away from their local area. "Families being moved to accommodation outside their borough will encounter longer travelling time to school, which can cause lateness and poor attendance. Disruption for children in temporary accommodation also means they miss an average 11 weeks of school annually."
Each homeless child - and there are over 109,000 - is damning proof of the failure of successive governments to build the affordable homes the country needs. At the same time the support that keeps a roof over people's head, such as housing benefit, is slowly being stripped back. A shrinking supply of affordable accommodation and dwindling housing benefit is fuelling evictions and homelessness: loss of a home in the private rented sector continues to be the main reason for homelessness.
The good news is that families aren't on their own. Our Helpline operates 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, and provides families facing homelessness with advice and support. Many of the cases we deal with are heartbreaking, especially at this time year: as most families will be looking forward to Christmas, some will be on the brink of homelessness, or will just be moving into cramped B&B accommodation. With your help we can reach more families who are facing homelessness, and help make sure that they have somewhere to call home this Christmas.