MORE THAN 7,000 homeless families in Britain live in hostels or bed and breakfasts where they face health risks daily, according to a report published yesterday by Shelter, the national campaign for housing for the homeless.
The report, written by Shelter campaigner Jonathan Stearn, points out how in those areas where council housing cannot meet demands, local authorities place the homeless in bed and breakfasts where unhygienic conditions, cramped quarters. fire hazards and unhealthy diets take a toll in the family's, and especially the children's, health.
Although the Department of Environment's official figures for the homeless in Britain recognise only 4,160 families in this country as homeless, Shelter spokeswoman Clair Booker told the Catholic Herald that the number "is more like 7,000 plus. We did our own survey in the London boroughs in March, and found there were 4,400 families there that were homeless."
The homeless in Britain tend to concentrate in certain areas of those cities where local authorities have depleted existing council facilities, thus inhabiting what Ms Booker calls "a homeless ghetto. In London this is true of Bayswater, some parts of Camden and Islington, where in one square mile you will find hundreds of families living, supposedly temporarily, in cheap bed and breakfasts."
Mr Steam's report points out too that many General Practitioners fail to meet the "extra needs" of these families which, due to their unsatisfactory living conditions, suffer from a variety of health problems — from malnutrition to dyptheria.
"The medical profession should prepare itself for these homeless people's needs, and they should overcome the blind spot that they, and in many cases educational authorities, have when dealing with the thousands of homeless men, women and children."
Prevention of the numerous health risks faced by homeless families, concludes Mr Steam's report, can only stem from government recognition of "their plight, and the need to release funds to provide decent public housing."