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The life-changing effects of homelessness on children

The cost of living crisis has made it harder for families to afford the everyday essentials, and has plunged thousands more children into poverty. An estimated 4.2 million children were struggling to make ends meet in the UK in 2021-22. Worrying about money affects young people’s development, mood, and their ability to focus. But homelessness adds another layer of uncertainty. It disrupts young people’s lives in every way, and can have serious long-term consequences. Here, we unpack just some of the impacts that homelessness can have on young people’s lives.

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Understanding homelessness

An adult with light skin and blonde hair clipped back is sitting on the floor with their hand on their forehead, looking at a bill.

Understanding homelessness

Losing your home can happen overnight. A landlord could decide to hike the rent, making it suddenly unaffordable. The sudden shock of a redundancy can lead to the loss of income a parent was counting on. Rising inflation can make all the other expenses so unaffordable that finding the money for rent becomes impossible. Whatever the cause, those that experience homelessness can feel shame or guilt, like they did something wrong. When we all understand the circumstances that can cause homelessness, there will only be empathy with those experiencing it.

Understanding homelessness

Homelessness doesn’t always look the same. Assuming it only means sleeping on the street can mean we ignore adults and young people alike who are also homeless, but whose struggles are harder to see. This makes it even harder for them to get the support they need. We can all children, no matter their circumstances, deserve a stable home. 

Some kids have no choice but to crash on others’ sofas. Others are living in temporary accommodation provided by the council. Some are in overcrowded spaces, where their sleep is disrupted by people with different schedules. These all have one thing in common: they are not a stable environment for young people to prosper.

Upsetting young lives

Upsetting young lives

Homelessness can impact every element of a child’s life. Their physical and mental health can take a big hit. It’s harder to have access to healthy food or hygiene products. Things like exercise and hobbies may fall lower on the agenda, which can also impact their emotional wellbeing. Not knowing where they’re going after school can also make children feel anxious and like they don’t belong.

School can also become harder to focus on when families are constantly on the move. It’s difficult to find a quiet place to do homework. All the moving around can make it hard to keep track of, or clean, their school uniforms.

A teenager with light skin and short brown hair is asleep on a sofa with a duvet and pillow.

Upsetting lives

Without a safe and stable home environment, young people can’t do simple things that every young person should enjoy, like inviting their friends over. For schools with a wide catchment — including young people from families with widely differing incomes — children experiencing homelessness can feel like they stand out. They can feel more self-conscious and judged. Not only is this distressing in the moment, but it has a huge impact on their social development.

This feeling of isolation can seem like a small issue at the time, but it can actually put young people at risk of exploitation. Criminal groups groom children by making them feel heard and less alone.

girl looks at camera next to basketball courts smiling

I thought they wouldn’t listen if I tried speaking to them. I thought they wouldn’t listen if I tried speaking to them.

When Rosie was struggling, she thought that no one would listen if she tried talking about things. When she was referred to The Children's Society, she started to be able to breathe again. "She knew we were here for her, no matter what."

Fighting for stability

Having a consistent, safe space to call home is so important for a child’s development. Not only can it help them feel physically and mentally healthier, but it can make it easier to have healthy relationships with friends and family.  

The cost of living crisis has already added huge pressure on children across the country, but the long-term impacts of experiences like homelessness will be felt by those who experience it for years to come. 

We’re campaigning to reduce the burden of the costs of living on children. This includes cutting the costs of school uniforms, widening access to free school meals, and ensuring care leavers don’t pay council tax. We’re also calling on the government to strengthen the social security lifeline for children. It’s the first step towards ensuring they have safe, secure, and happy childhoods.

Author: Tarini Tiwari