Charity predicts surge in calls after helpline sees over 3200 callers last December. Shelter is bracing itself for an alarming rise in demand for help from people in London struggling to keep their homes this Christmas, following a record surge in callers to the charity’s helpline over the holiday period in 2012.

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Last year, 3,240 people from the region called the helpline in December – a 12% increase from the year before – and the equivalent to 810 callers every week. The number of people from London who called the Shelter helpline from 2012 to 2013 reached 37,496 – a 7% rise year-on-year.

The shocking figures reflect the growing number of people struggling to cope with the rising costs of living coupled with stagnating wages. It is expected that more families will find it increasingly difficult to keep a roof over their heads, especially as bills mount in the run up to Christmas.

Liz Clare, a Shelter helpline adviser for 9 years, says the Christmas period is the most difficult time of year for her and colleagues.
“The threat of homelessness is devastating at any time of year, but it seems to get worse around Christmas as the strains of the holidays close in and the weather gets cold.

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“One Christmas Eve I answered a call from a mum with a disabled son. They were evicted from their home that night and had to sleep on the streets in the cold. We managed to find them a place to stay, but I’ll never forget the devastation in her voice. The sad fact is that eviction notices can come at any time of year.”

The Shelter helpline is open 365 days a year, with a dedicated team of 50 expert advisors. It is partly funded by the charity’s partnership with Marks & Spencer, whose customers have helped raise over £2million for the helpline over the past eight years by buying millions of Christmas sandwiches.

Earlier this month, the charity launched an emergency appeal for the 62,394 children in London who will wake up homeless this Christmas. Many of these children will be forced to spend Christmas day cramped into one room of a hostel or bed and breakfast with their entire family, far removed from the home comforts many look forward to over the Christmas season.

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Helpline case study: Amanda

Amanda came to Shelter for help last Christmas after her ex-husband stopped paying their mortgage. Unable to keep up the repayments on her own, her home was repossessed and she and her two children had nowhere to live.

Amanda said: “It was an extremely scary time for me and my children. I tried my best to keep them safe and happy, but not knowing whether we would have a roof over our heads made it stressful and demoralising.

“I felt like we had no one to turn to, but I called the Shelter helpline and they were amazing. They talked to me about the help I was eligible for and helped me to find somewhere temporary to live that was safe for the children. Thanks to the help I received, we now have a real home.

“The difference between this Christmas and the last is huge. Thanks to Shelter we now have a place to call home, and my children are safe, settled, secure and happy. Their education has not been disrupted – my son is even looking to do his maths GCSE two years early.”

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “These figures should serve as a stark reminder of the families in London who will be facing an everyday struggle to keep a roof over their heads this Christmas.

“While most of us will rightly be enjoying the festivities at home with our family and friends, Shelter helpline staff will be taking calls from people on the brink of homelessness. But with the number of calls for help they receive rising quickly, they need more support to keep going.

“No child should be homeless this Christmas. Support from partners like Marks & Spencer is incredibly important to ensure we can continue helping families when they need us most.”

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