Advisers at Shelter’s national helpline are doing everything they can to make the call-centre office feel like a cheerful environment. Tinsel with Christmas baubles has been hung from the ceiling, tiny silver Christmas trees and felt reindeer have been stuck on the tops of computer screens, cotton-wool icicles are hanging from the windows, and colleagues have brought in mince pies and chocolates to share.
You quickly understand why maintaining a good mood in the office is important if you spend time listening in to the calls that come in, at a rate of around 500 a day, from people facing imminent homelessness or already sleeping rough and seeking advice about how to find somewhere new to live.
The anxiety and emotion that pours into the headsets of crisis advice workers in this crowded fifth-floor Sheffield call centre offers a snapshot of the UK’s worsening homelessness crisis. Advisers at Shelter’s helpline are processing more calls than ever. Last year there was a 15% increase in the volume of calls – a reflection, staff think, of the degree to which people are struggling with rising house prices, soaring rents, cuts to housing benefit and the long shadow of the recession. A day spent at the centre provides a clear picture of the kinds of housing problems people face, as pressure on council house stock intensifies and radical changes to benefit entitlements are introduced.
An employment adviser calls on behalf of a 23-year-old client whom he is trying to help find work – a process that is complicated by the fact that the man, and his young girlfriend, have nowhere to live and are sleeping on the streets. The girlfriend is 18 weeks pregnant and, for reasons that are unclear, her father has thrown her out. Sharon Reeves, one of the helpline advisers, calmly explains the best course of action. “If she is pregnant, they would be in priority need. It sounds like the council has just fobbed them off. They should have provided them with a bed and breakfast to stay in. They should really go back to the council and challenge it,” she tells the man.
- The homelessness crisis and how Shelter tries to help (theguardian.com)
- 4,000 homeless expected to seek refuge this Christmas (standard.co.uk)
- Homelessness rises as recession and welfare reforms bite (walesonline.co.uk)
- Number of homeless in England has risen for 3 years in a row, report says (theguardian.com)
- ‘Thousands of homeless people’ to visit charity’s Christmas shelters (standard.co.uk)
- Sudden rise in homelessness blamed on housing shortage and the ‘bedroom tax’ (derbypa.wordpress.com)
- What’s it like to be homeless at Christmas? We join Shelter to find out (metro.co.uk)
- Homelessness services feel mounting pressure as welfare reform bites (theguardian.com)
- Rising homelessness shows the damage caused by welfare cuts (newstatesman.com)