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Shelter: London desperately needs more homes for poorer families

PUBLISHED: 17:21 08 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:21 08 February 2017

Poppy Terry, public affairs officer at Shelter. Picture: Radek Bayek photography

Poppy Terry, public affairs officer at Shelter. Picture: Radek Bayek photography

bayek photography

Poppy Terry, public affairs officer at the charity Shelter, writes about the growing crisis of homeless families living in temporary accommodation in the capital.

The latest government statistics show housing homeless families in bed and breakfasts, hostels and other forms of shared temporary accommodation is a trend that’s making an unwanted comeback.

Over the last five years the number of homeless families in London living in shared accommodation has more than doubled.

This reflects the fact councils are finding it increasingly difficult to find self-contained temporary accommodation, where a homeless family will get their own bathroom, kitchen and enough space for the whole family.

The problem with shared accommodation is that the kitchen and toilet can often be shared by up to eight, nine or even 10 strangers, and it’s all too common for a whole family to have to eat, live and sleep in just one cramped room.

At Shelter was see every day the detrimental impacts this has on the education, health and wellbeing of families.

So why are London councils having to rely so much on shared accommodation?

First, temporary accommodation use in general is being fuelled by an increase in homelessness, particularly in areas where the cost of private renting far outstrips the incomes of people on lower wages.

Second, the supply of affordable self-contained privately rented homes and social housing is drying up because there’s not enough to meet the huge demand.

Third, while demand for temporary accommodation is growing, the number of homeless households able to leave hostels and B&Bs and move into “settled” accommodation has remained static.

There are far fewer social homes these days due to a combination of Right to Buy, a shortage of new affordable homes being built, and the impact of welfare reforms.

And, while councils can use the private rented sector, that’s difficult when rents outstrip incomes and landlords can pick and choose their tenants.

This means the number of homeless families is accumulating quickly every week.

To address the serious problem of increasing numbers of homeless families trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, the government must first increase funding for councils so they can better access suitable accommodation for homeless families.

But in the long-term the only solution is to build the homes that London desperately needs – homes that families on lower incomes can actually afford to live in.

Shelter’s Hackney Hub Service offers a one stop shop of expert information, support and advice to families facing bad housing and homelessness in London.

* Visit the new centre at 4 Tyssen Street, London E8 2FJ, shelter.org.uk/advice or call the London public advice line on 0344 515 1540 (9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday).

This opinion piece is part of our Hidden Homeless campaign to shine a light on the issue of temporary accommodation in Hackney. Read more news, stats and opinion at our Hidden Homeless microsite – and find out how you can tell us your story or add your name to our manifesto.

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