Thousands of children are living in shipping containers or flats built cheaply in old office blocks, a leading welfare official said yesterday.
They are among 124,000 youngsters living in temporary accommodation arranged by councils after their families became homeless, the Children’s Commissioner said.
Anne Longfield said children in homeless families were often put up in short-term accommodation that was dangerous, not fit to live in and often far away from other family members, friends and schools.
Converted shipping containers have been re-purposed for use as temporary accommodation in Bordars Walk, Hanwell, west London
Corelle Tertullien, 26, stays in one of the cramped containers with her two children aged two and nine months
A resident who does not wished to be named shared this image of a double bed stuffed in the tiny bedroom along with a cot
But her report said only a minority of children in temporary accommodation stayed there for long.
Three out of five have been found new homes with their families within six months, and only one in 20 –about 6,000 children – are in temporary accommodation for a year or more.
Miss Longfield called on the Government to launch a large-scale housebuilding programme.
She said: ‘Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks.
‘Children have told us of the disruptive and at times frightening impact this can have on their lives. It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time.’
It is thought there are more than 210,000 homeless children in England, of whom 124,000 are on the official homeless registers and living in temporary housing, and a further 90,000 said to be in ‘sofa-surfing’ families living with relatives or friends.
Housing Ministry figures say that of homeless people helped by councils last summer, six out of ten were single adults, while a further 26 per cent were lone-parent families and 8 per cent were couples with children.
Miss Longfield’s report said: ‘A recent development has been the repurposing of shipping containers.
‘The units are typically one or two-bedroom and small in size, meaning that overcrowding can be an issue. They can become really hot in summer and too cold in the winter.’
Housing Ministry figures say that of homeless people helped into temporary accommodation like this by councils last summer, six out of ten were single adults, while a further 26 per cent were lone-parent families and 8 per cent were couples with children
The Local Government Association, the umbrella body for councils, said: ‘The severe lack of social rented homes available… means councils have no choice but to place households into temporary accommodation, including – in emergencies – bed and breakfasts.’
Mother-of-two Corelle Tertullien was previously housed in a hostel in Southall, west London, and moved into a container in Hanwell shortly before she was due to give birth in December.
‘When I got the phone call, he said, ‘oh, we have a flat for you’,’ she told the PA news agency.
‘And then when I came here, I realised obviously this is not a flat. This is a shipping container.
‘When they tell you, they make it out like it’s a flat or a house, but no, it’s a shipping container.’
A jigsaw of steel boxes with wood cladding form the 34 units in Marston Court, with one piled on top of the other to resemble a housing block or estate.
The 26-year-old, whose sons are aged two and nine months, was forced to move out of her family home due to overcrowding but has to keep her belongings elsewhere due to an absence of storage space.
Mother-of-two Corelle Tertullien was previously housed in a hostel in Southall, west London, and moved into this container in Hanwell shortly before she was due to give birth in December
She said: ‘We’re all sleeping in one bed at the moment because I can’t fit the cot in here, there’s no space.
‘There’s no bathtub. Originally I was washing him (the nine-month-old) in the kitchen sink but now I wash him on the floor, getting a cup and washing him that way, because he’s too big to fit in the sink now.’
The lack of circulation in the metal storage containers means they are prone to overheating, according to Ms Tertullien, which leads to condensation dripping from the ceiling.
‘The fan is never off, it is constantly hot in here. The only way is to have your door open but I don’t want to have my door open because I don’t want people to look inside,’ she said.
‘Most of the time they’re in their nappies because it’s just too hot.’
After almost nine months living in the container, the shop assistant is unsure when she’ll be moving into permanent accommodation.
She said another resident had been living in a container for three years.
She said she has to wash her children in the kitchen sink or only the floor because there’s no bathtub
‘But to me, if it’s temporary accommodation, you shouldn’t be here for three years,’ she added.
Another resident, who preferred not to be named, said she cried after arriving at the containers having previously lived in the Calais jungle.
‘The council put me in here,’ she said. ‘It’s better than Calais but no-one wishes to live in a container, especially when you have kids. When I got here and saw all of this, the container, I was crying.’
A mother-of-one, the 29-year-old said the conditions inside the container were worse than in Eritrea and Sudan when she was living in a ‘normal house’.
She said: ‘Sometimes in here it’s damp with mould. Even making water for the tea, you have to open the window because of the steam.
‘It’s green inside the windows and even inside the bed.’
An Ealing Council spokesman said: ‘Ealing Council was one of the first local authorities in the country to use innovative modular homes as temporary accommodation.
‘Made from heavily modified shipping containers, the homes offer a stable, comfortable environment for vulnerable homeless families who have nowhere else to go.
‘While we would rather offer people the opportunity to live in genuinely affordable permanent homes, the housing crisis means we have no choice but to use temporary accommodation to house the sheer volume of homeless households that present to us.’