'We see a lot of trauma': Inside the school where over half the children are homeless

Every day, 172 families are being made homeless in England. Credit: ITV News

According to figures from the Shelter charity: In England one family is served with a no-fault eviction notice every eight minutes.

At Harris Primary Academy in Peckham, South London, over half of their 300 schools' pupils are homeless.

It is a remarkable, repugnant statistic.

Children arrive at the school gates after spending the night in a hostel or bed and breakfast, or in a temporary flat, or the sofa of a family member's living room. They may have lived like this for days, or weeks; they may have moved several times in a matter of months; some wake up in one hotel and go to bed later that day in a different one. 

For the teachers of Peckham Park Primary, this is "the new normal" - the housing crisis is so acute in South London, it's the children in stable, secure housing that stand out.

“In this borough, in Southwark, it's a massive crisis in terms of how many families are now homeless,” said Marie Corbett, executive principal.

'It's a massive crisis': Mary Corbett reveals the extent of the impact on children

“There's a huge impact on the children, we see a lot of trauma from the children here.

“Children arrive at school really hungry, because they have been on such a big journey to get to school.

"Often the children might fall asleep later on in the day (because) they might not have a bed, or they are sleeping on a mattress. 

“They have to handle some grown up situations that the majority of children might not, and then the impact of not knowing what tomorrow brings, not knowing whether that's going to be their home, not knowing whether they'll be coming to this school in the future.

“It is a worry for us, and the future of their mental health is a great concern.”

The problem has become so bad, the school have had no choice but to step in and help.Teachers-turned-housing-officers spend hours a week helping families navigate England's clogged-up, creaking housing system trying to find them somewhere to live.

Chantelle Feka is meant to be the school's Special Educational Needs Coordinator, but spends her days meeting homeless families, writing support statements, contacting housing officers, even taking them to the council building.

If you’ve been made homeless or want to contact us about your housing situation you can email us at housingstories@itv.com

On the day we visit, Chantelle is meeting the Merhawi family to help them find a property.

Five-year-old Mary and six-year-old Temi attend the school but are currently commuting an hour across the capital after the family had to leave their social housing property in March due to safety concerns. They were placed in a hotel in Ilford, East London.

In the six months Temi and Mary have been homeless with their mum, dad and two teenage siblings, they have been moved 10 times to 10 different temporary properties.

“This is the worst I have seen the housing crisis. Most of our families are in temp accommodation,” Chantelle tells me after the meeting.

“It's not part of my role, but it's something I can help with. Families are absolutely desperate, and they feel like I am the only person who can help them.

'It's something the government can and should get a grip of,' said Charlie Trews, Head of Policy at Shelter

“I feel as though I have a responsibility... but I also feel at times that I can't help, and that makes me feel bad that there's not more that I can do.”

No matter how much help the school give, the scale of the challenge is enormous.

Research by housing charity Shelter shared exclusively with ITV News shows a family is handed a no-fault eviction from private rented accommodation every eight minutes in England.

That is 172 families being made homeless every day, and 5,223 every month.

A survey of families living in private rented accommodation has also found 40% said it took more than two months to find a new home after being evicted, and 61% said if their landlord increased the rent by 10%, they couldn’t afford to live there.

Over half of those asked fear losing the property they currently live in.

In Manchester, I meet Zara and her two children, 10-year-old Jasmine and 13-year-old Dominic, at a rundown guesthouse.

They became homeless after their landlord in Stockport served them a Section 21 (no-fault eviction) notice, because they wanted to sell the property.

Zara searched for months for another place to rent, but to no avail.

Rents for a two-bedroom property in the area where her children go to school are between £850-£900 higher than what she receives in housing benefit.

Zara is a carer for her son. Dominic has global development delay and attends a special education needs school. It is a 40-minute drive away from the temporary room they’ve been placed in.

I joined them one weekday morning to see where they are staying - a small, dingy room with a rodent box behind the toilet and dirt on the walls and windows - and to experience their morning commute in.

Jasmine’s primary school is another half an hour drive from Dominic’s SEN school, meaning the journey took well over an hour.

At a local cafe after the school drop off, an emotional Zara tells me of the toll this is all taking.

The Merhawi family have been through a tumultuous six months. Credit: ITV News

“All of areas of Stockport, you're talking £850-900 just for a two-bed flat, and I haven't got that,” says Zara.

“Even though it wasn't our fault, even though it was a no-fault eviction, you can't help but feel like a failure. And when you're placed in the kind of place, we're in, it's like reinforcing that - it's like saying: 'You’re the lowest of the low, because that is all you’re worthy of, that's all your children are worthy of'."

On the day they had to leave the property they were previously renting, Zara had no idea where the family would stay that night.

Hours later, when she was told by the council it would be a single hotel room in Manchester, Dominic’s school offered to store some of their belongings.

More than a week on, Zara is still having to store bags of clothes in a teacher’s office.

Unable to afford the fuel to commute back to Manchester only to come back again in the afternoon, Zara spends the day in her car in Stockport.

She calls the council, hoping to find out more about her bid for a permanent property, or at least somewhere temporary that’s closer to home.

She is advised to contact her designated housing officer, who Zara tells me never has their phone on.

'You can't help but feel like a failure,' Zara told ITV News

Sure enough, when we try to call, an automated messaged plays: “This phone is currently switched off.”

While the uncertainty continues for Zara, after we finish filming with the Merhawi family in Ilford, they contacted us to say they’ve been offered a private rental property in South London, not in Peckham, but much closer to Harris Primary Academy.

It has taken six months, and 10 different temporary properties, but the family are relieved.

It’s a rare moment of success for Chantelle and the school who’ve helped them, but they know others won’t be so fortunate.

“It just feels like we have more families on a daily basis experiencing these problems, it doesn’t feel like it is settling down at all,” Marie Corbett tells me.

“And I do worry how sustainable it is for everyone. Something has to change.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have recently set out our ambitious Long Term Plan for housing to build the homes that Britain needs, in the places people want them.

“Our landmark Renters [Reform] Bill currently going through Parliament will protect renters and create a private rented sector that is fit for the twenty first century.

“It will abolish Section-21 ‘no fault’ evictions and deliver the government’s commitment to a better deal for renters and landlords.”

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