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Children experiencing homeless slammed as ‘national scandal’

Over half of state school teachers have worked at a school with homeless children or children who have become homeless, the charity Shelter has revealed.

Most teachers have first-hand knowledge of the damage done by the housing emergency to education –– with it now commonplace to see children grappling with homelessness at school, an issue slammed by the charity as “a national scandal”.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Without a safe and secure home, a child’s life chances can be deeply disrupted. This is a national scandal - and without action, the extra harm being done to homeless children as a result of the pandemic may never be undone. Homeless children must not be the invisible victims of this crisis.”

The study by Shelter and YouGov found that in the last three years, teachers with experience of working with homeless children or those living in bad housing have witnessed some of the most devastating effects including hunger, tiredness, absenteeism, and poor hygiene:

- 88% of these teachers reported children missing school as a key issue. If children become homeless and are accommodated a long way from their former home, the journey to school can pose significant difficulties.

- 87% of teachers reported children coming to school hungry. Temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels are often not equipped with suitable or any cooking facilities.

- 94% reported tiredness as an issue for homeless children and those living in bad housing. In overcrowded accommodation children may struggle to sleep, resulting in fatigue.

- 89% reported children attending school in unwashed or dirty clothing. A lack of proper or affordable washing facilities in temporary accommodation compounds this issue and problems such as mould and damp are common place in poor-quality housing.

Dani Worthington, a headteacher in Batley, West Yorkshire, said: “Homeless children are at a disadvantage before the school day has even started. In my 15 years of teaching, I have seen the devastating knock-on effect of homelessness on education many times. Children who did well when they lived in a stable home became withdrawn and unable to follow their lessons. When families don’t have access to the basics like a washing machine, we end up washing their uniforms at school. We had one family where all the kids had to share a bed, they were shattered. It’s not right.”

The impact of the current COOVID-19 pandemic IS making housing inequalities worse, and Shelter warns that this desperate situation could worsen for the 136,000 homeless children living in Britain.

Shelter carried out a follow-up survey with teachers in October as schools re-opened in a bid to understand the impact of the pandemic on the education of homeless children and those living in poor quality housing. The pandemic disruptions appearing to have set children without a suitable home even further back. Almost three-quarters of teachers (73%) say that homeless children or children living in bad housing have had their education more negatively affected than children in suitable housing.

Dani Worthington added: “The pandemic disruptions are making everything worse for homeless children. It was harder for them to keep up with their lessons in lockdown; they didn’t always have access to Wi-Fi or the equipment they needed. The bottom line is that without a safe home, education suffers. This was a massive issue before coronavirus hit – but the pandemic has intensified the problem, which is deeply worrying.”

Shelter is calling for more secure social homes to be built, but is also urging the public to support its frontline services as they contend with a surge in demand triggered by the pandemic. Shelter’s services are open 365 days a year to provide expert advice and support to families facing homelessness, which includes helping families to access a safe home.

Chief Executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, concluded: “We still don’t know what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be on this generation of children. But for now, Shelter is here to support and give hope to the families who need us the most. With the public’s support we will do all we can to make sure every child has a safe and secure home – this winter and beyond.”

To donate to Shelter’s urgent winter appeal and give hope to families facing homelessness, please visit Shelter's website.

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