The number of people in temporary accommodation is increasing at a “higher rate than ever before”, according to a service manager at Lewisham Council.  

Lee Georgiou, housing needs and refugee service group manager, made the comments at a children and young people select committee meeting on Thursday (January 23). 

He was presenting a report on ‘how living in temporary accommodation affects children and young people’, which included parents saying they found “used condoms, syringes and other drug paraphernalia in communal spaces” where they were housed.  

It detailed the mental and physical impact on children living in temporary accommodation, including social isolation, bedwetting, and a 25 per cent risk increase of disability or severe ill-health.   

At the end of June 2019, there were 4,464 children in temporary accommodation. 

According to the report, children who have been made homeless can experience difficulty sleeping and are up to 10 times more likely to get meningitis.     

They are more likely to suffer from social isolation and anxiety, which can continue after they are rehoused.   

This is “particularly acute in secondary children where lack of access to toilet and washing facilities can mean hair and uniform goes unwashed”.   

Children in temporary accommodation lack access to toys, leading to understimulation, while the lack of space can cause delayed crawling and walking.   

Delayed toilet training, speech delays and bed wetting are also linked to living in temporary accommodation.   

Children affected by homelessness can fall asleep in class while frequent moves are associated with lower educational success by the late teens. 

Mr Georgiou told the committee: “All of the evidence and research that is done independently says that the impact on children once they go into temporary accommodation is very negative. 

“We are doing what we can to mitigate those impacts but the best thing we can do for families is to stop them from becoming homeless in the first place.” 

He said the numbers in temporary accommodation were “increasing at a higher rate than ever before”.  

The Government’s Homelessness Reduction Act, introduced last year, mean that local authorities have a higher duty of care.

“As a result of the law change, the demand for the service is unprecedented, we’ve got twice as many people that we have to assess.

“We’re predicting that we’ll be working with 2,600 households.”

He said the council has bought a “huge” number of homes to mitigate the problem. 

“Lewisham Homes has also purchased properties on the private market. 

“We’re developing high quality temporary accommodation. All of these steps that we’re taking and it’s still not enough to meet the demand that’s coming through the door,” he added.  

Councillor Liz Johnston-Franklin described the report as “very upsetting” and urged more action on children using shared facilities in bed and breakfasts.  

“I want to know what the numbers are and is there a way […] we can try to reduce the children that have to go into that shared accommodation. 

“Having to share bathrooms … it’s just something we shouldn’t be doing. We should have some system in place so that we can filter those families with children so that they don’t have to go into [it],” she said.  

Mr Georgiou said anything higher than one was “too many”. 

“The law says we shouldn’t be leaving families in bed and breakfasts. 

“We don’t want to be using it and are already taking lots of steps to mitigate it.  

“It’s the most expensive accommodation and the least suitable. If we had other options then we would not be using it,” he added.  

The committee agreed to create a draft set of recommendations in the wake of the report, to be brought to the next meeting.  

Speaking afterwards, local campaigner Cheryl McLeod blamed the council for the rise in temporary accommodation use.  

She said: “I cried reading that report.  

“Cllr John Paschoud is sitting in there and he’s also part of the strategic planning committee – he’s part of the reason we’re in this situation.  

“He should be making sure that developments have more social rent.” 

Ms McLeod said the council uses the term ‘social’ to describe what is actually ‘affordable’ – up to 80 per cent of the market rent.  

“What we’re actually getting now is 15 per cent and sometimes even less than that. 

“We’ve now got this problem of temporary accommodation. 

“We have to think about the children coming up. The children in that temporary accommodation are not there by choice and the council is not taking this seriously. 

“Why aren’t they pushing developers for more social housing?” she said.  

A council spokesperson said: “The suggestion that Lewisham Council is not pushing developers to deliver more social housing could not be further from the truth.  

“We always seek to get the maximum amount of genuinely affordable housing in every scheme and will reject those that fail to deliver this.  

“All planning applications are robustly interrogated by officers and professional advisors to ensure we get the maximum affordable housing possible.  

“Last year we approved 600 new affordable homes, making up 37 per cent of completions.  

“This is a huge increase on the year before when we approved 39 affordable homes, making up eight per cent of completions.  

“As the London-wide housing crisis continues, we are doing everything we can to provide safe and genuinely affordable homes for Lewisham residents.”