Homeless and helpless

4th June 2004 at 01:00
The education of tens of thousands of children is suffering because they are in temporary accommodation, says Shelter

Single mother Michelle James and her four children live in a cramped room in a Great Yarmouth bed and breakfast hotel, their fifth "home" in just four years.

The three elder children Matthew, 13, Katie, 12, and Amy, nine, have been to four schools in as many years. They say they have been picked on, and have often refused to go to lessons.

They are among the tens of thousands of children living in temporary accommodation, whose plight is revealed this week in a report from Shelter.

The charity estimates taxpayers face a pound;500 million annual bill for homeless families "trapped" in emergency housing - pound;50m on out-of-school provision.

Shelter's report on 400 homeless families looks at the impact on children of living in temporary accommodation and says education, health, and job opportunities are all affected.

Almost half the families (49 per cent) said their children's education had suffered and more than two-fifths said that their children were depressed or unhappy.

Homeless children find it difficult to retain school places, maintain regular attendance or to do well at their studies. A quarter of those featured in the report say they have been bullied.

One in 10 children had difficulties because they constantly had to make new friends, while 13 per cent complained about the long distances they had to travel to school. Almost one in four had problems changing schools.

Adam Sampson, Shelter's director, said: "For the tens of thousands of children shoved from pillar to post because of the shortage of affordable homes, the term 'temporary accommodation' is a terrible parody.

"There is nothing temporary about the damage done to their education and mental and physical health or the cost to the taxpayer, who is left to pick up the bill.

"The Government must give these children an equal chance in life by making serious investment in affordable housing a top priority in the Spending Review," he said.

Problems began for Miss James in 2000 when the family got into arrears with their rent and was evicted from a house in Great Cressingham, Norfolk.

She and the older children now sleep in bunk beds in a single room, while bed for four-month-old Chelsea is a car child-seat on her mother's mattress.

"It's hard because everything is in one room and the children are all on top of each other - they are always fighting and arguing and bickering," said Miss James. "At the moment, Matthew won't go to school - he just doesn't want to go. I think it's because the children have been through a lot and he wants to go back to where we were before. Katie has her odd days because she's developed such an attitude, although she goes most of the time.

"But I've had to move Amy again because she was getting picked on at her last school. She didn't go to school for a fortnight."

When the children refuse to go to school they remain in the tiny room, which causes even more tension.

"It just makes things worse," said Miss James.

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