ITV News' Investigations Correspondent Dan Hewitt has the latest on the children trapped for months in unsuitable accommodation, as detailed in a new report
Aurora is just 11 months old, and she has been homeless for half of her life.
Cramped, over-crowded budget hotel rooms are almost all this little girl has ever known.
She has learned to crawl, to play and now almost walk in the smallest of spaces, surrounded by bags and boxes of belongings, and her two older brothers, all bereft of home.
When Aurora was carried into the Enfield Travelodge in north London in February by her mum Michaela, the family were only meant to be staying a few days, at worst a few weeks, while they found somewhere permanent to live.
They had just become homeless, no longer able to live at the property they were renting privately. Michaela had been forced to go to their local council for emergency accommodation for Aurora, eight-year-old Callis and her teenage son.
'I was literally up all night with anxiety'
"I thought: ‘I’m on the street with a baby'," Michaela tells me. "I just remember sitting in the car and crying. I literally had a breakdown in my car."
With a part-time job working for a pharmaceutical company, and in receipt of housing benefit, Michaela was confident they would find somewhere else, having rented privately for the past 13 years.
Yet almost six months on, and three different hotels later, they are still without a home. Michaela cannot find anywhere affordable to rent, and the council have no properties to place them in.
"There’s nothing that is affordable. Nothing.
"Even if I didn’t have any bills to pay, if I didn't eat any food, I still wouldn’t be able to afford the prices they (private landlords) are charging."
'I thought we were going to be there for a month and a half'
Michaela isn’t the only one in the hotel, placed here by the council. The place is packed full of families who have been evicted or had to move out of their private rented property, and it is just one of numerous hotels hosting homeless families.
Down the road in another Travelodge, I meet Ben Thompson. A full-time locksmith and father of three children, he was handed a Section 21, no-fault eviction notice in April for the maisonnette they had been renting for five years, because the landlord wanted the property back.
He and his wife have looked for other homes to rent but also cannot find anywhere affordable even with Ben’s full-time salary. Fierce competition means private landlords can now make big financial demands.
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"We just can’t rent anywhere," says Ben. "You have to earn over £50,000 (per year) or have a guarantor who earns over £50,000. If you aren’t earning that, you can’t rent it.
"I’m frustrated because no matter how hard I work I know I can't earn that. My wife cant work at the moment because she is a stay-at-home mum, so we are literally just stuck.
"We were thinking it would be a couple of weeks and then into temporary accommodation, a house or flat. At least that we way we could cook and clean and do basic things, but we have been stuck here ever since."
'No matter how hard I work, I know I'm not going to be able to earn that'
Ben, his wife and three children have been moving between hotels for almost five months.
What is happening in Enfield is being repeated across the country.
A new national homelessness study by charity Crisis and Heriot-Watt University shared exclusively with ITV News shows nearly a quarter of a million households (242,000) in England are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, including sleeping on the streets, staying on friends and families' sofas or stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation like nightly paid B&Bs and hotels.
That's up 10% in the last two years.
The 2023 Homelessness Monitor finds 85% of councils across England are facing an increase in people experiencing homelessness, the highest number in any year since the survey began in 2012.
88% of councils report an increase in requests for support from those evicted from the private rented sector, while 93% anticipate a further increase over the coming year.
As ITV News has previously reported, local authorities are increasingly turning to the private rented sector to try and house low-income households, but the Homelessness Monitor finds record-high rental prices and fierce competition for properties is making it near impossible to house people experiencing homelessness in some areas of the country. 97% of local authorities say they have struggled to source private rentals over the past year.
With the more than 100,000 households currently stuck in temporary accommodation in England, the study shows councils are even struggling to source temporary places with a large number stating that they are "running out of temporary accommodation" and "struggling to procure more".
"The homelessness system is at breaking point," says Matt Downie, Chief Executive at Crisis.
'The alarm bells are flashing red': Matt Downie warns the situation is dire
"Temporary accommodation should be a short-term emergency measure, yet, as the report shows, it is increasingly becoming the default solution for many councils. This is leaving thousands of people living out their lives in a permanent state of limbo, enduring cramped, unsuitable conditions – with a fifth of households in temporary accommodation stuck there for more than five years.
"It comes as no surprise that councils are reporting that they are running out of temporary accommodation. For too long the emphasis has been on managing homelessness, not building the social homes we need to provide security to low-income households.
"The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear. The government must address the chronic lack of social housing and increase housing benefit, so it covers the true cost of rents. We cannot allow this situation to escalate further and consign more lives to the misery of homelessness."
Back in Enfield, Council Leader Nesil Caliskan tells me the number of families presenting to them as homeless has doubled in the past year, with the number of private rented properties available in the borough halving.
The result has been an extra £20 million spent on temporary accommodation this year to pay for accommodation for residents like Michaela and Ben with nowhere else to go.
"The consequence of the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis and the economy crashing last year means we have far too many people in hotel accommodation," says Councillor Caliskan.
"It comes at a huge cost financially to the local authority, but of course it also comes at a cost to the individual families having to find themselves living in hotel accommodation which is absolutely not appropriate.
“We will never leave an individual family, often families with young children, without a roof over their head for the night… which is why we’re having to place them in hotel accommodation. We are having to keep them in those spaces for far longer than we want to.
“I am unwilling to leave children in hotels because it is hindering their life chances.”
The crisis has reached breaking point, and with nowhere permanent to place families in the borough, the council has begun informing those living in hotels via email that they will be offered two private rental properties “outside of South of East England and far from Enfield”.
Back at the hotel, Michaela tells me she didn’t sleep a wink the night she received the message.
"I was up all night with anxiety at the thought that I am going to be moved far, up north, with no support network for me or my children. My kids would have to be pulled from their schools, and I work."
Ben also received the email.
"They have said they can move us nationwide which we have explained that isn’t possible.
"Our eldest son is being diagnosed with ADHD and doesn’t deal with change well and all three kids are in school - we would have to move schools.
"But if you turn it down, they choose not to help you anymore which means you are homeless."
One worry for families being sent potentially hundreds of miles away from their home town is what happens if, in two years’ time, the private landlord decides to evict them. Will Enfield Council support them then when they have been discharged from their care?
Councillor Caliskan said the council does offer a package of support when a family is initially relocated, including helping to register children with new schools and GP pratices, but she admitted if a family becomes homeless after the council has moved them then it would be down to the local authority in the area they have moved to to handle their case.
It is a rational fear for Enfield families. The lack of secure tenancy and the rise in evictions is happening across England, including in towns where London councils like Enfield are sending their residents to live.
In Stoke-on-Trent, Ian and Teresa have been living in a tent in a family member’s back garden for almost two months.
'Not getting much sleep in a tent and then going to a 12-hour shift, I'm constantly tired'
The family of four were served a Section 21, no-fault eviction earlier in April as their landlord wanted to sell the property.
Despite both working – Ian as a truck driver and Tersa as a care assistant – they struggled to find anywhere they could afford, with some landlords asking for six months rent upfront as a deposit.
They turned to their local council for help, but were told they didn’t qualify for emergency accommodation as they both work, and so would have to pay themselves. The price of two hotel rooms for two adults and two children (8 and 16) is £160 per night – over £1,000 a week.
The tent was their only option.
"I am not getting much sleep in the tent and then getting up and down a 12-hour shift, I am constantly tired," says Teresa.
"But it’s just what I’ve to do isn’t it?"
Ian has struggled considerably with what has happened over the past few months.
"I feel like I’ve failed, I tell myself I haven’t and I have done nothing wrong, but feel like I could’ve prevented this. I’ve begged for help. It’s took a toll on me, I’ve been suicidal.
"I don’t see the point in working, my work ethic has gone, I have got nothing left to give.
"I've done everything right, for what? I just don’t see the point."
Since we filmed with Ian and Teresa, they have now been offered a property by Newcastle Borough Council, which they have accepted.
A spokesman for Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council said: “We sympathise with the family’s situation and have offered the couple help and advice from the outset.
“There is high demand for three-bedroom homes in the area which makes it impossible to react immediately.
“Last year the council spent £850,000 on temporary and supported accommodation. If families are in employment and do have an income, then we do ask that they pay for their own emergency accommodation.”
Ian and Teresa, remarkably, are among the lucky ones.
For hundreds of thousands of families with children, the search for security seems never-ending, never quite knowing where they will end up at the end of each week.
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