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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 14:53 GMT
Is homelessness still a problem?
Is homelessness still a problem?
The number of people sleeping rough has dropped significantly, according to official figures.

The UK government says it is a real achievement-but homeless charities say the statistics do not tell the whole story.

One campaign group, Crisis, is warning there is still a big problem, with many rough sleepers being caught in a vicious circle.

They say many people are simply moving from hostels to the streets and back again-and the number of families in temporary lodgings has never been higher.

Is the number of people without a permanent home still an urgent problem? Is homelessness under control? What are the challenges facing the government and homeless charities?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I have no sympathy for those who through their own stupidity or laziness have failed to take advantage of the opportunities that are open to them

Andy D, UK
We live in a country with free education, decent social services and a welfare state that provides those unfortunate enough to need it with a level of income that would be the envy of the sizeable chunk of the world's population that manages to subsist on less than US$1 a day. Unemployment is lower than I can remember it ever being, and, in London at least, there seems to be work available for just about anybody that wants it and is prepared to do it. I have no sympathy for those who, through their own stupidity or laziness, have failed to take advantage of the opportunities that are open to them.
Andy D, UK

The government can make figures say whatever they want. That doesn't make it true. The number of homeless people throughout Europe is an absolute disgrace. Furthermore, I have to question the priorities of politicians who appear more interested in pontificating about the optimum curvature of a banana.
David, Denmark

I'm just after visiting Reading, Berkshire in England, where for the first time I saw kids being homeless, and I mean kids. I thought it was real disgrace, that these people didn't have houses and couldn't get a job. I spoke to them, and took a few of them to a Chinese restaurant for a meal and paid for the lodgings for the night. I couldn't believe that they were homeless and that the council didn't do anything. They wanted jobs, but couldn't get a job because they have no bank account and no house. It's a vicious circle. We are not doing enough, and we should have something in place to help us all when we go into dire straits. A bare minimum of a place to sleep.
Andrew Donaldson, Belfast, N.Ireland

I'm not some drunk on a street corner, but am living in a hostel

Ben, London, UK
Homelessness is a very real issue; it's something I did for three winters. I tried killing myself twice and each time didn't succeed. I was about to try for a third time and two people found me and stopped me and took me to a day centre. I didn't know these places existed. Life wasn't easy, never safe and always cold during the winter. I'm now off the streets and living in a Centrepoint hostel, I can get myself back on my feet here. I know things aren't going to be easy but I'm guaranteed my own place at night.

I had no choice when I became homeless and I don't want to talk about it, but if it's enough to cause people like myself to live on the streets then I think it's the problem of society as a whole to try and help. I now have that help. I'm back on my feet. I go into schools and talk about my experiences of homelessness, trying to get the younger generation to not make the mistakes that I did, to make sure they understand that they know they have somewhere to go if things do get hard. I'm not some drunk on a street corner, but living in a hostel. The government still regards you as homeless. The numbers of street sleepers may be falling, but the number vulnerable housed is increasing hiding under an increasingly vague heading. A lack of clarity has been the problem for so many years, and will still be a problem for some years yet.
Ben, London, UK

To some, it's just a profession, an alternative to working a regular job and paying tax

Mick D, UK
90% of so-called homeless people are just bone-idle scroungers, who, too lazy to get a job, prefer to sit and beg on the streets for money that other decent, hard-working folk have had to go out and earn. To some, it's just a profession, an alternative to working a regular job and paying tax. Furthermore, most 'homeless' people choose to be so. They quit their jobs, leave their partners, get into drugs, or run away from their parents, and a significant amount of them I bet come from cosy middle-class backgrounds. Other 'homeless' people are dangerous, drug-influenced, drunken psychopaths, and the only home they need to be in is a mental one. Come on England, put your money away and wake up to these deadbeats.
Mick D, UK

Mick D is being sarcastic, isn't he?
Andrew Bartlett, UK

How many of these people has Mick D spent time with? I am part of a team who offer clothing, friendship and hot food to these people and many of them are more human and humane than those in much plusher surroundings. Until we got alongside them I also was guilty of judging them as 'society's dregs' - one very soon realises they are as human as those who pass them by. By the way, the definition of 'homeless' used in this summer's count on the South coast meant that anybody sleeping on a park bench or shop doorway was NOT included; so why are the figures so high?
Tony, UK

It's a shame you're only asking this question at Christmas, when we're supposedly cued into caring by the media

Ken, UK
You don't even have to work in central London every day like I do to see the homeless problem still exists; anywhere the Big Issue is being sold should give you some idea of how it's spread nationwide. I suppose you posted Mick D's bigoted views just to wind people up. It's a shame you're only asking this question at Christmas, when we're supposedly cued into caring by the media, before we go back to our lives on New Year's Day. I know just giving money won't solve it, but neither will blaming every street sleeper for the organised gangs, or in the case of The Sun, labelling good salespeople (of the Big Issue) tax-dodging cheats.
Ken, UK

I met a 17-year-old girl who was on the streets because her stepfather was sexually abusing her. Her only option was to be on the streets: home was too dangerous, hostels were full of addicts and abusers, she was too old to be put in a children's home and too young for benefits. She was extremely damaged, she had no options and since she had been bunking school since she was 12, she didn't have an education either. The point is not just that she didn't know how to get off the streets, but that once off the streets what was she meant to do? Not having a roof over head was just one of her problems.
Wendy, UK

These people are OUR people and they need a real chance to make a go of it

Andy, UK
If only the chief protagonists themselves could contribute to this debate - but this is the main problem. I am no expert but I fear that the principal causes of homelessness (family problems, abuse, poor mental health) are very difficult to stop at source. It should be tackled like any other problem; by giving the homeless the right tools to help themselves. How can you get an interview without an address? How can you pass the interview when you can't get a bath or some smart clothes? These people are OUR people and they need a real chance to make a go of it. If this government has not got the will to do the job properly, it may as well not bother at all. I for one am totally unimpressed with the latest statistical spin.
Andy, UK

Well, how convenient for the government! I wonder what has changed - the type of figures they collect, or the arithmetic performed on them? I don't for one moment believe it has anything to do with the number of people who don't have a home.

Strange. We have enough resources to accommodate many thousands of economic migrants; we contribute immense amounts of money to the European Community; the government tax take has increased substantially, but we still have native people who are homeless. If it were not for the assistance given by voluntary organisations the problem would be far worse. Socialist government? Don't make me laugh. I was homeless when Thatcher was in power and received more help than Phoney Tony will ever supply.
Robin Jenwick, England

It depends on how you define 'homelessness'. Where we live, there are the hard core of 'rough sleepers' who have indeed been caught up in a vicious cycle, they have been there months, maybe even years. However, their long-lasting problem is complicated by a load of youngsters who are simply looking for an 'alternative' lifestyle. They may spend a few nights to weeks at a time on the streets, begging or busking, and the rest they disappear. We know for a fact that their parents are in warm, comfortable homes just a few blocks away to where they retreat when the going gets tough! The authorities should look into this so that only the genuinely needy can receive the help they need.

The vicious circle seems to be ever increasing in size and complexity

Sarah Wolf, London, England
As a casual observer (I live in London), the numbers of homeless people, beggars on the tube and suburban trains and the numbers of those sleeping rough seem to have increased over the last 4 years that I have been living here. The vicious circle seems to be ever increasing in size and complexity and I'm sure that the figures released are part of a wider PR stunt to inject some semblance of credibility into a seemingly 'in' and 'un'credible UK government.
Sarah Wolf, London, England

My flatmate works for Shelter and the problems are still very real. A lot more still needs to be done - especially now that it is so cold and the people on the streets are somebody's children, sisters, brothers, parents etc. The government should do more, but so should the rest of society. Give money to homeless support groups and donate old clothes to charity instead of wasting money on Christmas cards this year.

It sounds like the government is using its own statistics. Does this number refer to people who literally sleep on the street, or does it include those who sleep a few days at a time on a number of friends' sofas? If the former it doesn't really prove anything - there is a world of difference between someone who has nowhere to go and somewhere who has nowhere to call their own to go.
John B, UK

How can we suggest we live in a civilised society?

Richard, UK
It's very easy to make figures show whatever you want them to. I've been living in central London for a year and am utterly shocked at the sheer numbers involved. First thing in the morning, in the doorways of big Oxford Street stores are bundles of people in damp sleeping bags. Last week I saw the police, with blue lights flashing, wake and move a dazed young man from outside McDonalds. In the evenings every cash machine and convenience store has a 'resident' homeless person. When people are driving past them in BMWs and Jaguars, how can we suggest we live in a civilised society?
Richard, UK

I've always wondered about the different concentrations of homelessness around the UK. It seems to be terrible in London and pretty awful in other big cities in the UK. But it doesn't seem to be at all bad in smaller cities and towns. Does this mean that perhaps people are making a choice to be homeless in London rather than housed in Welshpool for example?
John Adlington, UK

Rough sleeping and street begging are merely symptoms of more complex problems and without dealing with these we will only ever scratch the surface of the issue.
Rod Maxwell, Scotland

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