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‘How will Santa find me?’ asks one of the 3,400 children living in temporary accommodation in Wales

11 Dec 2023 4 minute read
Bella in Rhyl. Image: BBC

A disabled eight-year-old boy has asked his mum “How will Santa find me if I’m homeless?” after their landlord sold the house they were renting amid Wales’ rental housing crisis.

Marcel and his mum, Sarah, are featured on a BBC Wales Investigates programme which airs tonight (11 December).

Sarah said: ”No kid should ever say that. He shouldn’t have to worry about whether he’s going to get presents or not.”

Nowhere else to go

Marcel, who has learning difficulties, currently lives with his mum in a hotel room because their council has nowhere else for them to go. And he’s not alone.

He’s one of 3,400 children currently forced to live in temporary accommodation in Wales according to the Welsh Government’s own figures. Almost 1000 of them are in hotels and B&Bs, as councils struggle to provide accommodation to homeless families.

The programme follows families caught up in what’s been described as the “worst housing crisis” since the Welsh Government was established and uncovered evidence that there are now just over 139,000 people, including at least 34,000 children, waiting for social housing in Wales, based on snapshot data in October 2023 from all 22 councils.

It also found that council spending on temporary accommodation in Wales has risen 7 fold between 2018 and 2022, to nearly £43m a year.

Sarah and Marcel, from Cardiff, are waiting for the city council to find them somewhere permanent to live after it provided them with a hotel room, where they’ve been for almost three months.

Though grateful to have a roof over their heads, Sarah says it’s the wrong environment for a child like Marcel.

Unprecedented demand

Cardiff council says it’s experiencing ‘unprecedented demand’ for help, and is prioritising moving families out of hotels where possible and plans to build more temporary accommodation.

The introduction of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act has been blamed by many industry experts as one of the driving factors for the reduction in rental stock available, with soaring mortgage interest rates also playing a significant role at the moment.

But the body representing councils, the WLGA, says there is a ‘housing crisis’ and local authorities are under “huge pressures” with “simply not enough supply” of accommodation.

Reporter, Elen Wyn, also follows Mum Tracy and her children Olly, 13, Angel, 10 and Bella, 7 who’ve been sharing one hotel room for more than a year.

They’re about to spend their second Christmas in the hotel, with over 100 other homeless people, including other families.

When their landlord sold their 4 bedroomed rented home, Denbighshire council sent them to live in a hotel in Rhyl until alternative accommodation could be found.

Tracy said she ‘can’t thank the hotel enough… but even so, it’s not a home’. She added that being homeless is making her physical and mental health issues worse.

Denbighshire council said demand for social housing exceeded supply and temporary accommodation was used “for far longer” than it would like and was working with Tracy to find a permanent solution.

Marcel and Sarah in Cardiff. Image: BBC

Housing charity Shelter Cymru and housing expert Prof Peter Mackie, from Cardiff University, said placing people in unsuitable temporary accommodation for more than six weeks was unlawful, according to Welsh housing rules.

Professor Mackie said the issue now needed to be treated as a health and human rights emergency.

He said: ”I think if we treated this with the urgency that we treated Covid-19, and that’s the most recent example in history where we’ve really seen it as a public health emergency, we’d find other ways. We need to build more, we need to build faster.”

Julie James MS, the Welsh government’s minister for housing, said temporary accommodation waits were “a health crisis”.

She said: “My heart absolutely goes out to anyone who’s in that circumstance, but the alternative to that right now is that we would have many more people rough sleeping and that’s not something I want to contemplate.”

“We are going as fast as we absolutely can to get both the transitional accommodation programme up and running and of course we’ve got our targets to build our 20,000 decent, social homes for rent.

“But if you look at… what the government’s money can do, prior to the pandemic, we could get somewhere between five and seven houses for £1m.

“Now, we get four if we’re lucky. So although we’ve put more money into the system, it’s not buying the same amount back out of it as we were getting before the pandemic.”

BBC Wales Investigates: I’m Homeless – How Will Santa Find Me? in on today (Monday 11 December) at 20:00 GMT on BBC One Wales and on BBC iPlayer.

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