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Tuesday, August 31, 1999 Published at 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK


Homeless take on policy-makers

The image of homelessness is often negative, say campaigners

Homeless people are to tell leading policy-makers how to address social exclusion issues at a major conference taking place in a public park.

The new "homelessness czar", Louise Casey, will attend the self-help forum, organised in Sheffield by homeless agency Groundswell.

She will be addressed by presenters with a wide experience of homelessness, including squatters, travellers, homeless people and activists.

This is the third forum organised by Groundswell, a project run by umbrella group of homeless agencies the National Homeless Alliance.

"The forum offers an inclusive approach to social exclusion," said resource development worker Toby Blume.

"Rather than seeing homeless people as the problem, it is about recognising the contribution they have to make and using their experience to understand and help others overcome problems.

"It is about seeing homeless people not as trouble-makers, but as people who can contribute to the well-being of the community."

Groundswell aims to give a positive image of homelessness. One of the workshops at the self-help forum, which will be attended by more than 300 people, will be on overcoming stereotypes.

Speakers include one of the McLibel Two, who will talk about running an effective campaign, and some homeless activists from South Africa.

Speaking out

The main debate will be on the theme of speaking out about homelessness.

It is based around a project in Camden, north London, where homeless people came together to form a lobby group to address councillors about issues affecting them.

Mr Blume said Groundswell followed on from the 1970s community development movement which emphasised the need for communities to take control of their own lives.

Delegates are being offered bursaries to travel to the three-day forum which begins on Wednesday.

The forum is being held in a public park. The setting will offer the chance for different types of dwellings to be displayed, including geodomes.

"Often homeless people feel squashed by the system," said Mr Blume.

"We are turning that around and acting as a mouthpiece for them, showing they can still survive even when everything has been taken away from them and applauding the innovation and skill they use to get by."

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