Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Housing boom 'could cause homeless crisis'
Single people are facing acute shortages in emergency housing
The spectre of a homelessness boom is looming due to the spiralling cost of housing in many urban areas, says a leading charity.
According to Shelter, the sudden rise in housing prices in London and other pockets around the country as well as increasing demand due to housing shortages are combining to push up rents to unaffordable levels for many people.
This is despite a fall in house repossessions attributed to low interest rates.
Young single people, who are often not eligible for help with housing and face restrictions on housing benefit, are the hardest hit.
In London, their problems are compounded by an acute shortage of emergency beds.
On a typical night in March, there were 1,824 emergency beds for men in London.
Only eight were free, but three of these were reserved, with another three for use only by rough sleepers under the government's Rough Sleepers' Initiative.
No overall figures are available for single homeless people.
Shelter says they are hard to monitor because general figures tend to focus on those who are eligible for housing help.
But pressure on emergency beds is an indicator, said a spokeswoman, and this is getting worse.
Another factor is single male asylum seekers, who are dealt with by social services rather than housing departments under current asylum legislation.
Shelter says there is evidence that emergency hostels are discriminating against these.
The Refugee Council agrees, saying there are many reasons, including language barriers and lack of awareness about the legal implications of asylum policy.
Shelter adds that calls to its 24-hour national helpline (o8o8 8oo 4444) show many people in housing crisis are not seeking help until they have nowhere to sleep for the night or are about to be made homeless.
The problems are particularly acute in London, which accounted for half of some 40,000 calls the free helpline received in its first six months.
Seventy per cent of callers from the capital were in crisis when they rang.
Chris Holmes, director of Shelter, said: "There is a real housing crisis in the capital. Most hostel beds are full by mid-morning and there is a massive shortage of homes for people living on lower incomes."
Shelter wants to encourage people who get into housing problems to contact agencies which can offer support at an earlier stage to avoid homelessness.
It believes ensuring an adequate supply of good quality, affordable housing is the best way to tackle the homelessness problem.
And it wants to see housing benefit cover the total cost of rent, rather than average prices for the area or, a condition which applies to single people under 25, the average price of a room in shared accommodation.
"Prices in an area can fluctuate from street to street. It is very difficult for the current system to be fair," said a spokeswoman.
The government is expected to bring out proposed legislation on housing, covering benefits and other areas, in the autumn.