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Over 250,000 people homeless and living in temporary accommodation

There are more than 250,000 people in England who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelter has revealed.

Homelessness is rising with 115,000 more people homeless and trapped in temporary accommodation than 10 years ago. The 253,000 people living in temporary accommodation is the highest figure for 14 years.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Over a quarter of a million people – half of them children – are homeless and stuck in temporary accommodation. This should shame us all. With this deadly virus on the loose, 2020 has taught us the value of a safe home like never before. But too many are going without, because of the chronic lack of social homes.”

Shelter warns that the economic chaos caused by Covid-19 risks ‘turbo-charging’ the crisis. The number of people in temporary accommodation rose by 6,000 in the first three months after the pandemic struck, the charity’s analysis of government data shows.

However, the number of people experiencing homelessness is undoubtedly higher, with many people undocumented by councils because they are sleeping rough or sofa-surfing.

Temporary accommodation provided by councils can range from a self-contained flat to an emergency B&B room with shared facilities. One in six homeless households are currently placed into emergency B&Bs and hostels experiencing poor conditions and gross overcrowding. The use of emergency B&Bs alone has increased by a staggering 371% over the last 10 years.

Shelter carried out 21 in-depth interviews with homeless families and individuals trapped in temporary accommodation during the pandemic. The key themes which emerged were:

- Isolation: over half the people interviewed were placed in temporary accommodation out of area, away from jobs, schools and support networks. Several people spoke about feeling lonely, abandoned and forgotten.

- Safety: nearly everyone living in shared accommodation said it was impossible to maintain social distancing. Three people reported sharing basic facilities with people clearly displaying Covid-19 symptoms, leaving them with feelings of intense fear.

- Not eating: over a third of those interviewed said they struggled to prepare food and eat properly during lockdown due to inadequate cooking facilities, with some reporting losing weight or suffering health problems as a result.

- Cleanliness: many people found it difficult to wash themselves and do laundry as a result of unhygienic or inadequate washing facilities. This proved even more problematic with launderettes and public buildings closed because of the lockdown restrictions

- Mental health: 20 out of 21 people said their own, or their partner’s, mental health had been negatively affected by living in temporary accommodation.

Polly Neate added: “Many people will spend Christmas in grim, dangerous places, cut off from loved ones and faced with a daily struggle to eat or keep clean. As the country continues to reel from the financial shockwaves caused by the pandemic, our services will do all they can to support those battling homelessness. This year has been unbelievably tough, but with the public’s generous support we will do our best to give hope and help to everyone who needs us.”

The report also revealed which parts of the country have the highest number of homeless people trapped in temporary accommodation:

- More than two-thirds (68%) of all homeless people living in temporary accommodation are in London – this equates to 1 every 52 people in the capital.

- In London, Newham has the highest rates of people in temporary accommodation (1 in 23), followed by Haringey (1 in 28), and Kensington and Chelsea (1 in 29).

- Outside of the capital, Luton has the highest rate of people in temporary accommodation (1 in 55). This is followed by Brighton and Hove (1 in 78), Manchester (1 in 93) and Birmingham (1 in 94).

In response to the alarming findings in the report, Shelter is urging the public to support its frontline advisers as they work tirelessly to help growing numbers of people to find, or keep hold of, a home.

To donate to Shelter’s urgent winter appeal and give hope to people facing homelessness, visit their website. Just £10 could answer a call to Shelter’s national emergency helpline, allowing a trained adviser to give expert advice and support.

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