Britain's housing crisis: Homeless charity Shelter receiving 300 calls a day

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Britain's housing crisis is spiralling out of control – and no organisation in the land is more aware of that than Shelter.

The homeless charity’s helpline gets more than 300 calls a day from despairing people with nowhere to live.

In June alone, almost 8,000 called Shelter while 475,000 went on its website looking for advice.

These are scary numbers, but they still don’t hit home the terrifying reality faced by those struggling to keep a roof over their head – families who have nowhere to go and are out on the streets or begging friends to give them a bed for the night.

The real-life stories spell out just how drastic things are, as I found out when I spent a day manning the Shelter helpline with adviser Mark Cook.

Our first call was from a mum who has been forced to live with her baby (apart from her partner, the baby’s father) in her family’s home in a small dining room that has been turned into a bedroom.

The mum is working part-time and all she wants is an affordable home.

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She is on the council waiting list, but is not a priority. She says she feels nobody wants to help her and she is simply being fobbed off.

The mum was very emotional and upset throughout the call. She was worried the cramped environment was not good for her young baby.

Mark was calm and very kind and explained to the caller in simple terms how the housing waiting list system works and what obligation councils have to residents.

He suggested she should go back to the council to check it has all the right information and she has been awarded the right amount of points. The more points people have, the higher up they will be on the list and the quicker they may get a property.

You could hear a slight lift in her voice as she thanked Mark for his help. She said it was the first time someone had given her some time and opened up some options.

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Mark, 38, who has been working for Shelter for almost five years, said: “We get around 300 calls a day, many along similar lines to this one where families are being forced to live in totally unsuitable accommodation or being moved from one hostel to another with nowhere to call home.

“The simple fact is there is a lack of affordable accommodation.

“Escalating rents, housing benefit caps and families hitting hard times through job losses and wage freezes all add up to people struggling to find a home they can afford.

“It’s not just people relying on benefits. The majority of desperate people turning to us for help are hard-working families who simply can’t make ends meet.”

We then took one harrowing call after another, from people on the street with nowhere to go, others being moved on from one hostel to another and some reduced to begging a sofa from friends.

Many of them had no idea where they would end up that night. One call came from the friend of an 85-year-old woman who had ended up in hospital after her rent was put up by £20 a week.

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She had asked her council for extra housing benefit, but was turned down despite needing less than the housing benefit cap.

She ended up needing treatment for malnutrition and dehydration as she didn’t have enough money to eat.

Another friend called about a young single lad who was struggling after a death in his family, and had lost his job.

His Jobseeker’s Allowance had been stopped, as had his housing benefit, so he had been thrown out of a hostel because he had no money at all and had got into rent arrears.

His friend was living in a tiny one-bed flat with his wife and small baby while the young lad, who had been sleeping on the streets, was staying on their sofa. Mark recommended the friend should take his mate to Citizens Advice to find out what benefits he should be getting.

Mark says: “This is another typical situation. A domino effect where one things starts a series of events that send someone into debt and on to the street through no fault of their own.

“Many of the calls we get are heartbreaking, with people not knowing where to turn.

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“The most frustrating thing is that people often leave it until they are desperate to call us.

“If they had called us earlier they would have had so many more options of help. We can help people to stay in homes rather than ending up without a roof over their head.”

While the benefits system simply can’t be an endless pit of cash, pleas for help like this make you realise that in most major cities the housing benefit cap means many people can’t find anywhere affordable to live. Without tackling the housing shortage, and building more affordable social housing, we are fast heading towards a homelessness time bomb.

I really don’t know how Mark and the rest of the helpline team do this day in and day out. It’s soul-destroying hearing one heartbreaking story after another for hours on end. But without the Shelter helpline, many of the callers would end up in cardboard boxes – or even worse.

Shelter’s director of services Alison Mohammed says: “Every day at Shelter we speak to people at the end of their tether.

“The triple blow of our massive housing shortage, rocketing rents and cuts to welfare support has left many families across the country on their knees. On top of this, councils are struggling to rehouse the sheer number of people coming to them for help. It has reached crisis point”

Scott Blair - UK News
By Scott Blair - UK News 04/08/2015 20:48:00