Children ending up on the street as Britain's temporary accommodation crisis deepens

ITV News' Investigations Correspondent Dan Hewitt spoke to families who were made homeless in the space of a few minutes

To live in temporary accommodation is to live in constant uncertainty. Your home is not your own, and could be taken away from you in an instant.

The phone may ring, or an email may land in your inbox, that uproots your whole life; demanding you pack up all your belongings and move on, often with less than a days notice.

Refuse to move - even for a legitimate reason like the property 'offered' by the local council is a two hour commute from your child’s school - or worse, hundreds of miles away from everything you know - and you risk being on the street because you have made yourself “intentionally homeless” (an official term used by local councils that can smear and shame reasonable, decent people just trying to do their best for their families).

This is the reality for more than 104,000 households in England right now, including 131,000 children.

ITV News Producer Mariah Cooper and I have spent the last four months following homeless families living in temporary accommodation.

Michaela has all her bags packed but no where to go, after becoming homeless with her three children. Credit: ITV News

Two of them, Michaela and Teri, agreed to let us tell their stories, to document what life is really like when you never quite know what tomorrow will bring.

In Enfield, Michaela Prudence and her three children were moved into a budget hotel in February after becoming homeless.

Despite the fact she has a job and is in receipt of housing benefit, Michaela couldn't find anywhere affordable to rent privately, and the local council said there were no social housing available to them.

When Michaela arrived at the hotel, with a teenage boy, her 8-year old son Callis and 5-month old baby Aurora, she thought they would only be staying a few days, at worst a few weeks, while they found somewhere permanent to live.

When we met the family in July, they were still in the hotel, and had just been informed by Enfield Council that a chronic shortage of housing in the borough meant residents living in hotels would be offered accommodation out of London, possibly hundreds of miles away in the North of England.

Michaela told us 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," she told us.

"My kids would have to be pulled from their schools, and I work."

Three months later, Michaela called us on a Tuesday evening in October to say Enfield Council had contacted her late that afternoon offering her another temporary property - a two bedroom flat on the other side of London. Michaela calculated it would be at least a one-and-a-half-hour commute to school for her boys and a two-hour commute to her work.

She also does not have permission from her eldest son's father to remove him from his current school, where he is about to sit his GCSEs.

It was too short notice to make any arrangements, and Michaela said she had no choice but to turn down the property.

The council responded by cancelling her hotel booking, because she had made herself "intentionally homeless".

Michaela was homeless with her children on the street for several hours. Credit: ITV News

She would have to be out of the hotel by 12pm the next day, less than 20 hours after being offered an alternative many miles away.

The next day we joined Michaela and the children at the hotel, and we watched as she frantically packed while at the same time calling solicitors, charities, social services, and the council to get help with a place to go next, with no success. All while trying to look after a busy 14-month-old constantly on the move.

By 12pm, she was all packed up but with no where to go.

The hotel staff kept knocking on the door, wanting the room back. A family member arrived to take away the family's possessions and put them into storage somewhere.

Michaela left the hotel, and stood in the car park with a 14-month old and an 8-year old.

They were homeless. But there was nothing intentional about any of this, at least from Michaela's perspective anyway.

Hours passed, and Michaela tried and failed to call Enfield Council's housing department. She was on the streets with two children, with only the clothes on their backs.

So we decided to contact them on her behalf, and we received a reply within 30 minutes.

They then called Michaela, with news of a U-turn, booking her back into another hotel for the night.

An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “The family in question has been offered alternative accommodation within London, which was accepted, and subsequently refused.

"We understand that moving out of borough is difficult for some but this council, along with many others, is faced with a deepening housing crisis where more people are presenting as homeless on a daily basis but there are fewer and fewer homes to offer in the private rental sector. 

“Under current legislation, local authorities are obliged to make a single offer of alternative suitable accommodation. 

"The number of people presenting themselves as homeless at the same time as the huge reduction in the number of homes available in the private rental sector means that we are having to move to a position in line with our statutory duties.  

“Supporting our residents to access good quality housing is an absolute priority for Enfield Council but Londoners are suffering acutely because of the cost-of-living and housing crises.

Teri has three young children and has been living in temporary housing in South London for 10 months Credit: ITV News

"The government has failed to develop a plan for housebuilding across the country, is yet to tackle a ban on no-fault evictions and has not acted on reforming the local housing allowance rate.

“The resulting financial pressures faced by all local authorities supporting the increasing numbers of homeless households are huge - this year alone we are forecasting a £20 million pressure – and affordable homes in the local private rental sector are increasingly scarce. 

"We therefore have no alternative but to help find homeless families decent, stable homes in affordable areas outside of the borough and increasingly outside of London. We will assist people to move and settle so they can start afresh."

In South London, I met Teri Williams and her three children.

They had been living in temporary accommodation provided by Sutton Council for 10 months. It was a tiny, studio flat. All four of them were living and sleeping in one room.

With three days notice, Teri had been sent a letter informing her the landlord wanted the property back and they would have to leave.

Sutton Council also stated they would not be offering alternative accommodation, as the family were in fact under the duty of Croydon Council.

Teri was given three days notice to leave her temporary accommodation but cannot find anywhere else to go. Credit: ITV News

Passed from pillar to post, and unable to find anywhere herself, I arrived at the property first thing on a Monday to find Teri packing up all of the family's belongings and carrying them down three flights of stairs to a family members car.

Like Michaela, by midday Teri was on the streets with three children. Homeless.

She decided her only option was to physically go to Croydon Council's offices in the hope they would put them somewhere at least for the night.

I waited outside as Teri wheeled the pushchair into the council building. She emerged half an hour later with bad news - it was "too late" to find the family a place for that night (it was 4pm by this point) and council staff suggested she find a friend or family member willing to provide them somewhere for now.

The council advised her to return the next day. Teri texted a friend, who offered them a sofa for the night.

A spokesperson for Croydon Council said: “We are currently supporting the family and have provided temporary accommodation while we carry out all the necessary assessments.”

A spokesperson for the London Borough of Sutton said:  "Ms Williams did not reside in Sutton before approaching the Council for emergency accommodation and when she did, Sutton provided the emergency accommodation straight away.

"Unfortunately Ms Williams was unable to sustain this tenancy and she has now sought emergency accommodation from Croydon Council. We hope that Ms Williams continues to get the support she needs both for her children and for all their housing needs."

Terri has since spent the last four weeks moving between various different hotels, paid for by Croydon Council.

Michaela and her children have been booked into a hotel by Enfield Council for 10 more days. She does not know what will happen after that.

If you or someone you know is homeless, facing homelessness, or want to get in touch with us about your housing issue, please email us at

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