Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Monday, 4 May 2009 11:04 UK

Homeless at nine years old

By Judy Hobson
BBC Radio 5 Live

Melanie
Nine-year-old Melanie and her family are homeless

Nine-year-old Melanie has a sister, two brothers and a best friend called Molly. What she doesn't have is a permanent place to live.

Melanie's family is homeless, one of an estimated 70,000 currently living in temporary accommodation in the UK.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire show more about her life.

For now, Melanie's home is Plas Bellin Hall, a centre in north Wales which provides accommodation for 24 homeless families.

It aims to be a safe and secure environment, offering support and advice needed to lift its residents out of housing exclusion.

But lingering insecurity is something Melanie feels keenly, which she recorded in a blog for 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire's show.

She said she likes the hall and the staff are kind, "but you can't live here in Plas Bellin all your life, and I don't think that's fair".

"I don't know where we will go next," she said.

"We'll get kicked off here soon and I don't know where we'll live.

"I'm worried me and my brothers will have to be put into care and my mum and dad will live on the streets."

Evicted

Before coming to the centre, Melanie's family spent seven years renting accommodation in Denby, Derbyshire, before they were evicted in January.

The landlord said he had to sell the property.

"If we hadn't come here, we'd be in one room in a bed and breakfast," said Darren, Melanie's father, who is an unemployed panel beater.

"Can you imagine that?"

FROM BBC RADIO 5 LIVE

Darren feared that the children could also have been placed in care.

Plas Bellin Hall is run by the charity Save the Family.

It offers housing for families with members of any age, so long as there is no history of drug or alcohol abuse, paedophilia or violence.

Save the Family's chief executive Tim McLachlan says there is an enormous demand for this type of accommodation and support.

Every day Plas Bellin Hall has to turn away up to eight families.

"It's alright here", says Debbie, Melanie's mother. "It's good for the kids. There's a lot for them to do."

Plas Bellin Hall offers children games and activities, including classes in singing, dancing, drama, art and cooking.

One of the resident fathers takes football practice, which is a big hit with Melanie's eight-year-old brother Simon.

The centre has kitchens and a large dining area so that the families can eat together if they want to.

There are lessons in parenting, cooking and budgeting.

Support

Like other children at the centre, Melanie goes to a local school.

"My friends there think I'm a bit weird," she writes in her blog.

"They know I'm homeless and I think they feel sorry for me, and they think it's really weird we can't keep pets here.

"I think it's weird too. And some of the kids don't like me coz I live here."

Save the Family says it aims to integrate families back into the community.

They stay at Plas Bellin for an average of five-and-a-half months, after which they are moved to outreach houses.

Although families live there independently, they have continued support from the charity and have regular contact with workers from the centre.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire show will follow her life over the next few months.



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