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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 08:37 GMT
Sharp fall in rough sleeper numbers
Selling the Big Issue in London
Unemployment affects 95% of former homeless people
New figures from the government's Rough Sleepers Unit are expected to reveal a dramatic fall in the number of people sleeping on the streets.

It is thought they show there are now fewer than 550 people sleeping rough in England, compared with nearly 2,000 in 1998.

I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of and there has certainly been no fiddling

Louise Casey
Rough Sleepers Unit
Following the unit's success, the government is expected to announce it will be replaced by a new "homeless unit" to tackle the wider problem of general homelessness.

But campaign group Crisis is warning there is still a big problem, and that many of those who were sleeping rough are caught in a pattern of moving from hostels to the streets and back again.

Experts believe around 400,000 single people are currently homeless in the UK, and the government's own figures show the number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has never been higher.

'Not fiddled'

Prime Minister Tony Blair set the target to reduce the number of people sleeping rough by two thirds by 2002.

Homeless statistics
550 people now sleep rough
In 1998 2,000 slept rough
400,000 single people homeless
Record numbers in B&B
95% unemployment among ex-homeless, says Aspire
The Rough Sleepers Unit met its objective months ahead of schedule, but there have been allegations it "fiddled" the figures by moving people sleeping on the streets or threatening them with arrest.

Unit head Louise Casey has denied the claims, saying critics were trying to undermine the excellent work done by charities and local authorities to reduce the number of rough sleepers.

"There is absolutely nothing in these allegations and I am deeply disappointed by them," she said.

"We want to find the people who are out there. We care about those people and we want to help them come in from the cold."

'Inquiry needed'

But Philip Burke, from the Simon Community, which works with rough sleepers in London, is concerned the figures do not represent the true scale of the problems.

He supported claims that members of the Rough Sleepers Unit had tried to reduce numbers of rough sleepers on the night of the head count.

"The Simon Community was asked on the night of the official head count to extend its night in the shelter for a number of residents purely so they would not appear on the official count," he said.

"We are very, very concerned and very angry."

Work training

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Simon Community wanted an inquiry into the validity of official figures.

Aspire, an organisation offering work training and opportunities to homeless people, says that 95% of homeless people are unable to get work, even when they have found a home.

Despite progress in reducing the number of people sleeping on the streets, Crisis says there is still a lot of work to be done.

The charity is launching its Hidden Homeless campaign on Monday, as well as opening its network of winter shelters.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"Hostels now house many of those sleeping rough"
Rough Sleepers Unit's Louise Casey
"We still have a way to go"
Chief executive of Crisis Shaks Ghosh
"No-one should believe that homelessness has been solved"
See also:

22 Oct 01 | UK Politics
House 'decent' homeless first - Tories
10 Oct 01 | England
Homeless food scheme expands
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