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‘Cramped and insecure’: Norfolk children placed in B&Bs in lockdown

PUBLISHED: 06:30 14 November 2020

Charities have warned of a rise in rough sleeping. Photo: Archant

Charities have warned of a rise in rough sleeping. Photo: Archant

Archant Norfolk 2018

Nearly 300 children in Norfolk spent lockdown in temporary accommodation, including in cheap B&Bs, as the number of families turning to councils for help almost doubled.

Government figures to June this year show Norfolk councils had to house 93pc more homeless households in B&Bs, hotels and self-contained flats than the same period last year.

The statistics also reveal the number of children needing to be housed by councils shot up by 28pc to 291, with some children stuck in B&B rooms with their families for more than six weeks.

The numbers cover the peak of the coronavirus lockdown where councils were urged to house every homeless person.

Charities have predicted worse to come and have called for long-term solutions to stop councils having to rely on B&Bs for those made homeless.

Rebecca White of Your Own Place. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYRebecca White of Your Own Place. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Meanwhile, with another national lockdown in place, B&B managers say they are dealing with higher numbers than before.

Elaine Winterbone, manager of the King’s Head B&B in Dereham, which is used by Breckland Council, said staff acted as a makeshift counselling service for guests.

“We listen to them and talk to them,” she said. “We always point them to the food bank and other services in the community.

“One couple have been here for four weeks already, which is much longer than normal.”

Of the 373 households in Norfolk in temporary accommodation, almost half are living in B&Bs, including 44 families with children.

Lesley Burdett, services manager at Shelter Norwich, said living in poor quality temporary accommodation could have a “dreadful” effect on mental and physical health.

“It can be especially hard on children when they are uprooted and forced to live in cramped conditions with no space to do homework or play, and may even have to share bathrooms with strangers,” she said.

“It’s a tragedy that councils have so little access to decent, affordable homes.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick announced more funding for councils to house homeless people during lockdown. Photo: PAHousing minister Robert Jenrick announced more funding for councils to house homeless people during lockdown. Photo: PA

“The only way they can protect people from the streets is to pay out for cramped, insecure B&Bs.”

Norwich had 24 families registered in temporary accommodation. Of these, five were families with children but none of those were in B&Bs.

Rebecca White runs the Your Own Place social enterprise in the city which supports people to manage their tenancies and avoid homelessness.

She said young people were most at risk.

The King's Head on Norwich Street in Dereham where Breckland Council places people in temporary accommodation. Picture: Matthew Usher.The King's Head on Norwich Street in Dereham where Breckland Council places people in temporary accommodation. Picture: Matthew Usher.

“If they have been in the care system or their familial relationships have broken down, they don’t have that support a lot of people in their first home rely on, and can become very isolated.

“This year we’ve seen an increase in need, but it’s been very difficult for us to deliver.

“The floodgates opened after lockdown ended. We absolutely anticipate an increase in rough sleeping.”

Great Yarmouth had the most households in temporary accommodation in Norfolk, with 119.

Of these, 30 were families with children, and 37 had been placed in either a B&B or paid nightly accommodation.

One B&B used by the council is the St George Hotel on Albert Square.

Manager Paolo Rodriguez said 40 rooms had been continually booked since March.

“Lockdown definitely had an effect,” he added. “The numbers have gone up since March and have stayed that way.”

In Breckland, 66 out of 75 households were either placed in B&Bs or nightly paid accommodation. Almost 40pc of these were families with children.

And 12 Breckland families with children have been in B&Bs for more than six weeks.

In North Norfolk, households in temporary accommodation more than doubled this year to 49, and of the 21 families with children, but only one was living in a B&Bs.

The council pointed to a rise in familial breakdowns since lockdown and is investing in five new homes in an attempt to move away from using B&Bs.

A similar picture emerged in South Norfolk, where the number of households in temporary accommodation rose by 118pc, and in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk where the numbers increased by 82pc.

Meanwhile the number of children in temporary accommodation in Broadland almost doubled in the same time period, from 23 to 44.

However, these councils hardly ever use B&Bs, the figures show.

•‘All booked up’

The manager of the Abigail Court hostel in Lowestoft, which is used by councils to place homeless people, Gemma Michalski said being able to listen to guests and point them to services was a big part of her job as numbers rose during lockdown.

“Around 12 rooms were in constant use,” she said.

“All our rooms have been booked up again now by the council, just in case, but they aren’t full yet thankfully.

“We’re seeing people who are newly homeless more and more, for example people who were in a couple that split up over lockdown.”

East Suffolk Council reported 33pc more households in temporary accommodation compared to last year.

Suffolk as a whole saw a rise of 38pc, from 237 to 327, but the number of families with children in temporary accommodation fell by a quarter to 98.

•The national picture

There has been a small rise in the number of homeless households in temporary accommodation nationally, but nowhere near as large as Norfolk.

Figures show a 14pc increase in England with 100,000 households stuck in temporary accommodation during lockdown.

Meanwhile the numbers of children living in temporary accommodation dropped by 71pc across England.

The government announced £105m of interim housing support in June.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick this month launched the ‘Protect Programme’ to tackle homeless, but only 10 areas were chosen for funding and the east of England was not one of them.

Head of research at homeless charity Crisis, Francesca Albanese, said: “Pre-pandemic homelessness was rising, and rents were unaffordable to lots of people.

“Now it’s worse, and more people are going to be on the brink.”

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