BLOG: Hidden Homelessness: Invisible Families
20 October 2021 in All, Blog.
As part of #AHomeForUsAll campaign we're talking about hidden homelessness – the people you don’t see on the streets but still need our help. One of our grant recipients, Shared Health, talk about their work supporting families affected by homelessness.
Blog by Charlotte Cockman, Shared Health Foundation.
A growing issue
As of March 2020, there are 2,189 households with children living in temporary accommodation across Greater Manchester, but evidence shows hidden homeless households equate to 10 x higher than official statistics, with sofa surfers and those relying on friends and family difficult to account for.
These figures provide a glimpse into the extent of a growing issue, and Shared Health Foundation has been working with agencies and council teams, as well as families with lived experience of homelessness, to understand the challenges being faced. We want to deliver solutions to reduce the impact that homelessness has on both children’s and parents' health.
First, let’s try and summarise the journey for a family experiencing homelessness. You register as homeless and get placed in a B&B or hotel. These words, hotel and B&B, conjure up images of countryside retreats and high thread counts – but it is quite the opposite. Small rooms trying to accommodate large families, no access to communal space, limited cooking facilities and often in a location you didn’t choose and don’t know.
Families can be in a hotel for up to six weeks, but we know this can be longer. Six weeks of trying to get to school. Six weeks trying to cook using just a kettle or microwave. Six weeks of not being in control of when and where you can eat, wash clothes, sit, play or learn. Six weeks of not knowing your nearest doctor, supermarket, transport link. Six weeks of living amongst whatever belongings you were lucky enough to bring with you.
Next, a move to a temporary accommodation. But when we say temporary, this can be up to two years. You have no control of where you’re placed and can be far away from the locality and area you are used to. Two years of waiting. Two years of wondering whether to commit to building a community or whether to bother; knowing at some point you will move again. School changes, work changes, support system changes.
The impact on both parent and child
We see the significant impact being homeless has on both parent and child. Trauma causes mental health decline, we see physical health conditions worsen and child development hindered. Educational outcomes are poorer and child behaviour changes. This isn’t just in the short-term, we know homelessness is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) meaning just by experiencing homelessness, long-term mental, physical and social outcomes are going to be worse. Higher rates of co-morbidity, increased likelihood of being in prison or homelessness as an adult.
And so, with an estimated 1 in 59 children in Manchester alone being homeless or in temporary accommodation – how are these families still invisible? Well, we don’t have informed systems. The systems are, or can be there, but we put the onus on a parent or child (in a period of crisis management and firefighting) to advocate and fight for their own needs.
Change is possible
At Shared Health we have been able to pilot systems which improve outcomes for families experiencing homelessness. Outreach paediatric support in B&Bs, mental health and resilience training for hotel staff and direct intervention with families, safeguarding awareness for hotel staff and embedding holistic care into housing teams – providing the advocacy and support that works across borough lines and across sectors.
As a result, schools are informed – with the ability to provide much need pastoral care. Health providers are informed – ensuring families aren’t written off lists for non-attendance and can receive consistency of care. Accommodations becoming Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) – helping to mitigate worsening of mental health. Families know where to access help and support across the VCSE sector – building community and support systems.
We need to do more
Our families are struggling and the number experiencing homeless increasing. Yes, we want to end homelessness. Yes, we don’t want our families in these situations. But they are, and until there aren’t any families experiencing homelessness, we need to do more. And it is everyone’s responsibility to do more.
What do we need;
- Families not to be in mixed accommodation with single homeless, to safeguard young children and vulnerable women.
- A clear, standardised notification system – where health and education providers are informed of their patients and pupils’ situations.
- Standards of accommodation that are specific to families; cots provided to babies, stair-gates where young children are mobile, washing machines and cooking facilities, sufficient space for child play and development.
To allow the above to happen, we need true integrated working. We need to highlight the numbers of families experiencing homelessness and be honest about the flaws in the systems and quality of care being provided. We know services are stretched, housing teams are overwhelmed, workforces are burnt out.
But together, we are a force and a force for good. – pull out quote
If you would like to be part of our #AHomeForUsAll campaign and enable us to support organisation’s like Shared Health you can find out more.