A CHARITY has highlighted the "alarming extent" of homelessness among families with young children in the North-East.

Shelter said that 649 of the 2,410 people in the region who sought housing help from the charity last year were families with young children.

It also revealed that there were nearly 4,500 children in the North-East living in temporary accommodation with their parents.

The findings, based on figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, showed that in Tyne and Wear 1,524 sought assistance from Shelter last year, followed by County Durham (421), Northumberland (320) and Cleveland (145). In North Yorkshire last year, Shelter dealt with 1,260 people, including 406 who were families with young children.

Youngsters who were without a permanent home were more likely to suffer illness through damp, cramped conditions and were also more susceptible to behavioural problems, the charity said.

Each year, Shelter works with more than 100,000 homeless or poorly-housed people, through a network of more than 50 advice centres and housing projects.

The charity's director, Adam Sampson, said: "These figures highlight the alarming extent of child homelessness in the North-East.

"Shelter sees thousands of families with children every year who are experiencing the terrible hardship of bad housing and homelessness.

"These families are living at the sharp end of the housing crisis."

Mr Sampson said that, by next March, the Government should fulfil its commitment to end the practice of housing temporarily homeless families in bed and breakfast hostels. Targets to reduce the use of B&Bs have been set for each local authority across England and Wales.

A spokeswoman for Darlington Borough Council said: "Bed and breakfast is always a last resort for people in these situations and we always try and seek other types of temporary accommodation. We make a point of not having people in bed and breakfasts for more than six weeks.

"We also have a 100 per cent success rate when it comes to processing applications from the homeless within 28 days, as set by national guidelines."

For more information about Shelter, log on to www.shelter.org.uk. Shelterline, a free 24-hour national housing advice line, is on 0808 800 4444.