CHILDREN in Sunderland are set to wake up to Christmas tomorrow homeless.
Figures from the city council suggest the number of homeless children has reduced from almost 20 to five in the last few years, but Ashkirk Homeless Household Project, based at Lakeside Village, houses 16 families at anyone time, and currently have 26 children in their care.
A report from homeless charity Shelter also revealed that about 224 children in the North East will wake up homeless on Christmas Day.
Mel Baynes, care and support manager at Ashkirk, said: “Christmas is one of the most difficult times of year, especially for children.
“They go to school and they won’t have the same experience as their peers who might get the newest clothes, trainers or toys.
“And they may be isolated from their families as they aren’t in their usual home environment. Nobody would choose to be in this situation.
“That is why we try and make it as best as possible for them.
“We have a Christmas party, and give the families toys and food hampers, so everyone has something over Christmas.”
Councillor Graeme Miller, portfolio holder for health, housing and adult services at Sunderland Council, said: “We welcome the Shelter report which raises awareness of a national issue, which we are working very hard to address at a local level in Sunderland.
“This approach has significantly reduced the numbers in temporary accommodation from a high of between 12 - 18 cases a number of years ago, to four families with five children between them in temporary accommodation, and with our support at the moment this figure likely to decrease before Christmas.”
Ashkirk works with partner agencies to give families the support to see them move on eventually to independent living.
Project team leader at Ashkirk Gemma Alderson, said: “Our service can accept any homeless families in the community that have support needs.
“The main aim is to give them the skills and confidence to sustain a future tenancy.
“There’s a variety of reasons why families might be referred to Ashkirk, such as if they are in rent arrears, anti-social behaviour, or they have struggled to maintain a home because they don’t have the necessary living skills.”
Homeless charity Shelter are highlighting the figures this winter to raise awareness of the plight of the families.
Chief executive Campbell Robb said: “It’s easy to think of homelessness as single people sleeping rough.
“What people don’t often consider is the rising numbers of families who, through no fault of their own, have lost their home and have no permanent roof over their heads.
“For people with children, ‘sofa surfing’ with friends and family often just is not a realistic option.”