Christmas homeless crisis looms, warns charity

Housing charity Shelter says it expects to see an increase in the number of crisis calls this Christmas, up from one every 22 seconds last year.

New research from the charity shows that in 2016, its helpline received over 100,000 calls in the two months leading up to Christmas.

The scale of homelessness has 'increased significantly' over the past five years

Image: The scale of homelessness is set to increase this year

More than 500 of those were made across Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone.

Shelter CEO Polly Neate told Sky News a “crippling combination” of reasons is behind the rise.

“The factors at the moment are firstly just the dire lack of affordable housing, and by affordable I mean affordable to rent for people on low incomes,” she said.

“The second thing is the cuts to housing benefit, and that is meaning there’s no help now for people who simply can’t afford to pay their rent.”

Shelter CEO Polly Neate says there are several reasons for the rise in homelessness

Image: Shelter CEO Polly Neate says there are several reasons for the rise in homelessness

The charity also blames problems with the Government’s new benefit system Universal Credit for creating delays which lead to people getting into rent arrears.

Figures show calls to Shelter’s helpline increased by 25% over the past year.

The Government announced new housing measures in last week’s Budget in a bid to tackle the issue, including changes to stamp duty and the building of more homes.

Rough sleeping

Image: Universal Credit has been blamed for putting claimants into rent arrears

Peter – not his real name – was placed into emergency accommodation in London in 2014 after struggling to afford private rental costs in the capital.

Nearly four years on Peter, his wife and two children under five remain in the studio apartment.

He told Sky News it’s a difficult time in the run up to Christmas.

“For me it’s been really hard, I’ve always said it’s easier for me to suffer some hardship than them [his family]. For a long time we’ve been watching our budgets – there was no TV, microwave, toaster etc.

“Most of the time we are all four sharing the same bed so that places pressure on us as a family and also on my relationship with my wife.”

Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show 4,134 people slept rough in England in 2016, a 16% increase on the previous year and a sixth consecutive yearly rise.

But the charity Crisis says the number is actually more than double at 9,100 – and warns of the so-called “hidden homeless” including more than 68,000 sofa-surfing and thousands living in insecure or inadequate accommodation.