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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK


UK

Homelessness czar gets to work

Homelessness is a blight on many of Britain's cities

by BBC Political Reporter Robin Chrystal

A new attempt to tackle people sleeping rough gets under way on Tuesday when the government's "homelessness czar" Louise Casey starts work.


The BBC's Robin Chrystal says rough sleepers can be found only yards from Louise Casey's new office
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has given the 33-year-old former deputy director of Shelter the task of cutting the number of homeless on the streets of London by two thirds by 2002.

Her Rough Sleepers Unit has a budget of £145m and a staff of 20 and she is confident she can deliver on the Prime Minister's target.

Ms Casey said: "I am determined to break the cycle of rough sleeping by working with others to tackle its root causes. This will be a challenging role and I am looking forward to it."

Promise to get out on the streets

She will be based at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions but says she will not be desk bound.

One of her first plans is to visit the homeless in hostels and specially arranged meetings across London to ask them what it would take to get them off the streets.


[ image:  ]
Her appointment is one of the first tangible products of Mr Blair's Social Exclusion Unit.

In a foreword to its report on rough sleeping last year the Prime Minister said the sight of someone homeless "bedding down for the night in a shop doorway was one of the most potent symbols of social exclusion in Britain".

He said it should be a source of shame to everyone.

Experts on homelessness say Ms Casey is likely to face obstacles both within Whitehall and out on the streets.

'Banging heads together'

Shaks Gosh, director of the homeless charity Crisis, says she will have to "bang heads together" and ensure the various government departments involved work together.

Ms Gosh said there are no simple solutions to clearing the streets of rough sleepers.

She said: "Three quarters of the country's rough sleepers are outside London and yet most of the resources and effort are going into tackling it in London.

"The government has not really found ways to deal with homelessness in the major cities outside London and local authorities who have responsibility for doing so are in many cases failing to do so."

Not just a London problem


[ image: Hilary Armstrong:
Hilary Armstrong: "We are not neglecting the provinces"
But Housing Minister Hilary Armstong denied the provinces were being ignored and said £34m was being spent on rough sleeping outside London under this new initiative.

She said a senior local authority figure is being appointed in each area to co-ordinate the project.

Rough sleeping is only the visible homeless problem.

Shelter estimates more than 7,000 people are forced to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation because of a lack of housing.

The charity says that two years after the general election Labour has not to delivered on its pledge to get councils to provide long term housing for the nation's homeless.





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Homelessness in the UK

Rough Sleeping Report by the Social Exclusion Unit

Shelter


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