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Havering’s hidden homeless - the families living in hostels

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 July 2017

Sharon Ashworth in her room at Abercrombie House hostel in Havering, Picture: Emma Youle

Sharon Ashworth in her room at Abercrombie House hostel in Havering, Picture: Emma Youle

Archant

Hundreds of families are without a permanent home in Havering, the highest figure for a decade and a sign of a burgeoning housing crisis. In the first of a special series of reports, EMMA YOULE meets those struggling to find a place to live and asks why?

Brought to you by Archant's Investigations Unit Brought to you by Archant's Investigations Unit

In a tiny room barely twice the size of a prison cell Sharon Ashworth and her family have set up home.

The single mum and her three young daughters live, sleep and eat in the cramped hostel room, where she has put up bright pink curtains and a play mat to try to make the plain magnolia walls and cold tiled floor more welcoming.

Life has been hard for the family since they lost their home. Sharon’s emotional wellbeing has suffered and her eldest daughter, five, has night terrors sitting bolt upright in bed and shouting.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be where I am now,” says Sharon bleakly. “I do blame myself because I feel like I can’t give my children what they need. I can’t afford to buy a house, I can’t afford to privately rent somewhere, I just physically can’t afford it.”

Sharon Ashworth's hostel room at Abercrombie House in Havering, Picture: Sharon Ashworth Sharon Ashworth's hostel room at Abercrombie House in Havering, Picture: Sharon Ashworth

Today the Recorder can reveal the family are among more than 700 households in the borough who are living in hostels or other types of temporary accommodation, often for months or years at a time.

Although they are not sleeping rough or on the streets, they are homeless – effectively priced out of the property market by unaffordable rents and a severe shortage of council homes.

Our investigation has shown:

- 738 households in Havering are living in temporary accommodation, 80 of those in hostels.

Sharon Ashworth's hostel room at Abercrombie House in Havering, Picture: Sharon Ashworth Sharon Ashworth's hostel room at Abercrombie House in Havering, Picture: Sharon Ashworth

- Numbers have soared by 30 per cent in the last five years, as the housing crisis takes hold in London.

- Havering Council’s bill to house homeless families in temporary properties totalled £3million over the past five years.

Hundreds of people every year are now forced to seek help from the council because they can no longer afford private rented properties in Havering and, unlike previous generations, their chances of securing a council home are vanishingly slim.

Among them are families crammed five or six at a time into one hostel room.

At Abercrombie House hostel in Harold Hill, Sharon’s room is overflowing with toys and bags, and she says there is no space for her girls to play or do their homework.

When her partner left her at 12 weeks pregnant, she had no choice but to seek help from the council and housing officers quickly said her parents’ home in Harold Hill, where she had been living, was too small and unsuitable for her daughters.

“They basically said you’ve got to get out, and it was a case of my mum and dad having to kick me out and make me homeless, which was a horrible thing for them to have to do,” said the 35-year-old, who also acts as carer for her mum. “But it was either that or lose their grandchildren.”

Sharon, who has lived in Havering all her life, and her girls, aged five, two and 10 months, were placed at Abercrombie House on March 1 this year in a room with a double bed, bunk-beds and a cot for the baby.

The rent for her room, at £106 a week, is only fractionally cheaper than the £120 a week her parents pay for their nearby three-bedroom council house.

Despite the severe overcrowding, Sharon is considered a “reduced priority” case and is unlikely to be allocated another property soon.

Meanwhile she is desperately struggling to cope with her living conditions.

“It feels like a prison to be honest,” she said. “I don’t feel like I can do anything there. You go in and that’s it, you sleep in the same four walls. It’s so noisy. You hear every single little noise, so if one of the residents kicks off, you hear it.

“A lot of people say I’m calm, nothing seems to faze me, but they don’t see what’s going on behind closed doors. This is how I have to be because I can’t show the girls how upsetting it is.”

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