Hackney Council pays £35million a year to keep the homeless homeless
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
There are 2,700 families without a permanent home in Hackney, the highest figure for 12 years and a sign of the borough’s growing homelessness crisis, reports EMMA YOULE.
In a tiny hostel room, a little girl sleeps surrounded by toys and clothes wedged into every available space.
The bedsit that Aimee Bell, 26, and her daughter share has sterile white walls and a cold tiled floor. At one end a kitchen and bathroom are squeezed into a tight corner.
As she invites the Gazette in, Aimee says she has tried to make the place cosy but finds it upsetting that this cramped room is the only home 18-month-old Mia has ever known.
“I try to remain positive and not think about things like that,” she says. “But it does get very lonely.”
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Aimee and Mia are among a spiralling number of families in Hackney who are without a home.
The Gazette can reveal the numbers in temporary accommodation has reached a 12-year high, with more than 2,700 households now registered as homeless in Hackney.
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More people in Hackney are living in hostels than in any other area of London and our investigation has shown the bill for housing homeless families in temporary accommodation was a staggering £35million last year.
Today we launch our Hidden Homeless campaign to shine a spotlight on a system in crisis.
Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville has given his support, saying: “In Hackney and London the homelessness system is at breaking point.”
Since the 1980s private rents have soared in Hackney on the crest of a buoyant housing market.
Over the same period, 10,000 council homes have been lost, leading to an acute shortage of affordable property.
The result has been a spiralling number of families in crisis being placed by the council in hostels and B&Bs, often for months or years at a time with no prospect of a permanent home.
Mum Aimee has spoken candidly about the isolation of living in a hostel room.
She was placed at a hostel near Manor House when she was four months pregnant and is still living there more than two years later.
Aimee has been registered homeless since she was 18 and had already spent years sleeping on friends’ sofas or staying out all night in bars after she was kicked out of home as a teenager.
She was grateful for a hostel room but says the practicalities of living in such a confined space have taken their toll.
“The fact I’ve had Mia sleeping in a single bed with me since she was a newborn because there’s not enough room for a cot is getting beyond a joke,” she said.
“Am I supposed to sit in silence from the minute she’s gone to sleep at 7pm? I don’t want her up to 9pm because I want to sit up and watch telly. It’s little things like that.”
The hostel’s “no visitors” policy has also been tough for the young mum, who has struggled with depression in the past.
“I’m not allowed visitors, not even for a minute a day, so it’s not like I can have any support,” she says.
“I can’t even ask someone to help me up two flights of stairs with my shopping. I feel like I’m in a prison. I go in and that’s it – I shut myself away. It does get very lonely.”
Like many young mums Aimee cannot afford to rent privately in Hackney. On a budget of £120 weekly, even some new-build council homes are beyond her reach at up to £300 a week.
Government figures show that, 12 years ago, 61 per cent of homeless families in Hackney were housed by the council in privately leased homes and 21 per cent in hostels or B&Bs.
Today, more than 41 per cent end up in B&B or hostel rooms and only 11 per cent in homes privately leased by the council.
The numbers in emergency housing have also more than doubled – from 1,291 families five years ago to 2,733 in September 2016. And the figure shows no sign of falling.
Hackney’s bill for housing those in need of temporary accommodation has shot up from £9.4million in 2010/11 to £35million in 2015/16.
In contrast to the situation a decade ago, the end of a private rented tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness in London.
Mobile beauty therapist Leanne Campbell, 28, was forced to leave her home of six years in Stamford Hill in October when her landlord asked her to move out. She ended up in a hostel.
Her six-year-old son, who has ADHD, has struggled to adjust to life in a small room with no windows, a ceiling skylight and two single beds.
“I came in here and I broke down,” she said. “I would describe it as like a bail hostel. The rules and regulations here don’t make you feel like a human being.
“You can’t bring your own bed sheets; you can’t bring anything to try and make you feel at home. There’s a horrible smell; doors slamming; you’re not allowed to eat in your room.”
On her earnings Leanne is unable to afford another private rented property in Hackney, where she has lived all her life and where all her family and friends are based.
She believes a council house is her only option for stable and affordable accommodation in the long term.
“Landlords now can put up rents as high as they like and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it,” she said. “I think realistically there just need to be a lot more homes for council tenants.
“I can probably vouch for every mother that’s out there – they just want somewhere that’s stable and safe for their children.”
Working mum Michelle, 30, who did not want to give her last name, left a hostel in Forest Road, Dalston, last year to move into a privately rented flat in Barnet.
Despite being employed full-time as a dispenser at a pharmacy she is struggling to pay the bills and says she may have to return to hostel accommodation.
“I feel like we have been forgotten,” she said. “I work full-time. I pay my taxes. I have no benefits whatsoever and I feel really let down by the government right now.
“I think they need to do more to look at helping people in work. Families shouldn’t be placed in hostels.”
This story 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.