Homeless children in England living in shipping containers, hostels - Commissioner's report

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A teenager paints a wall with graffiti in an underpass in London May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Homelessness has been increasing in England for nearly a decade amid rising private rents, a freeze on welfare benefits and a shortage of social housing

By Adela Suliman

LONDON - Children in England are sleeping in converted shipping containers and rooming houses, environments that are often dangerous and far from their schools, a report by the Children's Commissioner for England found on Wednesday.

Homelessness has been increasing in England for nearly a decade amid rising private rents, a freeze on welfare benefits and a shortage of social housing.

The report estimated that homeless children in England could number more than 210,000, including 120,000 officially homeless and another 90,000 'sofa-surfing' with family members.

"It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time," said Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, in a statement.

"Something has gone very wrong with our housing system."

The report warns of the dangers of precarious living situations for children, such as shared bathrooms in hostels, which could create "intimidating and potentially unsafe environments."

Repurposed shipping containers used as housing were often overcrowded and could lead to antisocial behaviour, it said, while thousands of children live in so-called 'temporary,' accommodation for as long as a year.

"This report is a damning indictment of the government's catastrophic failure to address the housing emergency," said Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity, Shelter.

"We constantly hear from struggling families forced to accept unsuitable, and sometimes downright dangerous accommodation...The devastating impact this has on a child's development and well-being cannot be overstated."

Rough sleeping in the capital rose by 18% over the last year, hitting a decade high of 8,855 people, according to a Mayor of London funded database. Most of those had never before resorted to bedding down in parks or doorways.

Responding to the report, a government spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation "No child should ever be without a roof over their head, and we are working to ensure all families have a safe place to stay."

"We have invested £1.2 billion to tackle all types of homelessness, and we are working closely with councils across the country to reduce the number of families in temporary accommodation."

The report warned that households falling behind on rent or mortgage payments could put another 375,000 children in England at risk of homelessness in the coming years.

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