‘It’s scary… we have nowhere to go’: The families coming to terms with being homeless this Christmas

UK

In the corner of a cramped hotel room, there’s a small Christmas tree. Two stockings hang from the window ledges. There isn’t room for much more. Bunk beds and a double bed take up much of the space.

The rest of the room is filled with the possessions of a family of four who have found themselves suddenly and unexpectedly homeless.

A year ago the prospect of having nowhere to live never would have occurred to Adam, his wife and two children, who were living in a three-bedroom home in West Bromwich that they had rented for eight years.

Adam works as an electrician and his wife works as a teaching assistant. They had always paid their rent on time.

But their children, Holly, 12, and her younger brother, will now be among a record number of children who are homeless this Christmas.

Adam's daughter, Holly, in their old garden
Holly in her old garden
Image:
Holly in her old garden

They are two of the almost 139,000 children in England who will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation. It’s an increase of 14% from 2022 as the number of homeless families hits the highest since records began.

In September, just as Holly was starting secondary school, their landlord told them he had decided to sell their house.

More on Homelessness

“It was gut-wrenching leaving, because that’s all the kids have ever known really,” Adam says.

“We were evicted through no fault of our own – we always paid our rent and everything like that – it’s just the landlord wanted to sell up at the time.”

They quickly found they had nowhere to go.

‘It’s soul destroying’

Adam explains: “Where we were for eight years, the rent stayed pretty much the same all that time, so to then be suddenly kicked out and see what the going rate is now for rental markets… it’s astronomical really… it was too much for us to even consider.”

The family have joined the long waiting list for a council house but are resigned that they will be spending at least the next month in the hotel room in Birmingham provided for them as emergency accommodation.

“The anxiety of it not knowing when we’re going to be out and when my children are going to have their own rooms again… it’s quite soul destroying really,” Adam says.

“We’re hoping sometime early in the new year we’re going to have better news.”

The hotel where they’re staying is on Hagley Road, one of the main routes into Birmingham. It’s lined with hotels and B&Bs that have become shelters for the city’s homeless.

‘Like we’re in prison’

A few doors down, Nadia and her three teenagers share a hotel room. They’ve been homeless since 2021, and face their third Christmas in temporary accommodation.

“It just becomes unbearable after a while, just like we’re in a prison, just four walls,” Nadia says.

Nadia and her three children share one room
Nadia in the room she shares with her children
Image:
Nadia and her three children share one room

Don, 17, and his two sisters have to do their school and college work sitting on their beds. He says all he wants is his own space and a home he can invite his friends to.

They’re not allowed visitors and he doesn’t like to tell his classmates where he lives.

The family became homeless after falling behind on payments on their privately rented house. Nadia says she scrolls property websites for other private rentals but simply can’t afford them.

Instead, they wait and hope for a council house. But their circumstances have been made worse because Nadia lost her job as a care support worker last year.

She says she received a call from the council to say they had found her family a house in Walsall, 15 miles away from Birmingham. She doesn’t have a car so told her employer she couldn’t come in anymore. Then, on the morning they were due to move, she was told the house had fallen through.

Nadia and her family's belongings remain in bags
Image:
Nadia and her family’s belongings remain in bags

“I’d lost my job already, so basically I lost my income,” she says. She’s now in training with the Jobcentre but still has no idea how much longer they will have to wait for a home.

The problem isn’t going away

The experiences of these two families are mirrored across the country.

“If you look at the sort of overarching reasons, we don’t have enough affordable housing,” says Matthew Wilkins, head of value for money at the Centre for Homelessness Impact.

“Local authorities will place people in B&Bs where they have no other options to go into. The latest data suggests that that’s really increased,” he adds.

Read more:
More than 300,000 people homeless in England for Christmas, Shelter claims
Anger as security guard mops floor where homeless man is sitting

What exactly did the former home secretary say about homeless people using tents?

The bill to councils in England for temporary accommodation has spiralled to £1.7bn, up from £1.2bn three years ago.

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‘I was evicted and I became homeless’

“The situation we find ourselves in now suggests that the spending of some authorities on homelessness and temporary accommodation is such that it could pose a risk to the financial sustainability in the longer term,” Mr Wilkins says.

“If you take one particular case in one particular place, we calculate that almost 50% of people who are housed in temporary accommodation in the private rented sector in London will be there for around five years or more.”

This provides little hope for children like Holly who has two wishes this Christmas: “To get a house and to make my family happy,” she says, adding that life is currently “quite scary, because we don’t really have anywhere to go”.

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