No cribs, no beds: Homeless at Christmas

20th December 2018

As the nights draw in, the cold and wet evenings lead many of us to think about those less fortunate than ourselves. Probably the issue that contrasts with holiday cheer the most is homelessness.

Homelessness is more than the simple stereotype of those left sleeping rough in the cold. There are potentially thousands facing hidden homelessness across the UK tonight. It can manifest itself in many different forms - children in families that have fled domestic abuse and have yet to find settled accommodation, or a teenager who has left traumatic family circumstances and is sofa surfing with friends.

Indeed, for Buttle UK this is seen most keenly through our grants to help estranged young people, an emerging area we are supporting which is still both relatively little-known and difficult to research. Estranged young people are those who are trying to find their way in life both at, and in, a difficult age without the significant family support that many of us take for granted. They find themselves in this situation because, for a variety of reasons, relationships at home have broken down to the point where they can no longer stay.

Last year of the 1,176 cases we supported in this area, over 300 had listed homelessness as an issue that had affected them. This is understandable given the nature of estrangement which can happen either over prolonged periods or as a result of a sudden, one-off crisis – and sometimes a combination of both.

For those that experience estrangement, the effects can be far reaching and long lasting. Our Chances for Children grants seek to mitigate this. By helping to provide the background support for that young person’s education and training, we can help to not only stabilise a situation coming out of crisis, but also help to provide them with a meaningful path to gainful employment in the longer term.

Financial stability isn’t everything though, and that’s why we offer the support we do for activities to help with wellbeing or mental health. For instance: something as simple as a gym membership may be totally out of reach for a financially stretched 17-year-old, barely making rent on a zero hours contract without family support. But the potential knock-on, positive effects of this kind of regular exercise for both mental as well as physical health are well known.

That experiences of homelessness might be over represented among estranged young people is sadly to be expected. Homelessness was mentioned as a factor in 14% of all estranged young people applications to Buttle UK this year, compared to just 7% of our grants as a whole. This includes not just estranged young people, but both single and two parent families, along with those living in kinship care arrangements.

A more worrying trend is that this may now be spreading to others in society with increases in inflation coming at a time of frozen benefit levels, two child limits and a raft of issues caused by the introduction of Universal Credit. In December 2018 it emerged that the number of homeless children could be as high as 131,000.

Christmas is ostensibly a time to celebrate the achievements of a child born 2000 years ago in poverty, with no bed of their own. Today we estimate that up to 400,000 children could be without a bed, and any kind of cavalier attitude to this grim statistic serves only to underestimate the potential of these children as well.

But poverty and homelessness aren’t simply for Christmas, their knock-on effects can last for years, even the rest of someone’s life. The average life expectancy for those who experience homelessness is 30 years less than the general population.

But the challenges don’t simply end when families do move on to more settled accommodation; they can sometimes find it empty of even the basics, without the means to furnish it. It is at turning points like this when our Chances for Children grants can make a real difference. It is with a view to this that we have developed these grants and will continue to refine them in the coming years. Because all of us, both within the charity sector and without, owe it to those struggling without a home to sustain our support with a view to the longer term.

We need support from the public to do this. Whether this is simply by looking around and asking “why is society like this? How can I change it for the better?” or by supporting our Chances for Children campaign. That way a temporary crisis need not define a child or young person’s lifelong potential.

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