Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 11:03 GMT
Charities 'promote homelessness'
It is estimated there are 2,000 people living rough every night
The government's "homelessness czar" has accused charities of "servicing" the problem by encouraging people to stay on the streets.
Louise Casey, head of the government's Rough Sleepers Unit, told the Observer newspaper: "With soup runs and other kinds of charity help, well-meaning people are spending money servicing the problem on the streets and keeping it there.
"Even the Big Issue is perpetuating the problem."
Ms Casey, a former deputy director of Shelter, said there is a "plethora of services on the streets". It is possible to get a "better sleeping bag on the Strand than you can buy in the camping shop Blacks", she told the paper.
Citing a sense of belonging experienced by homeless people, she said they should not take their help on the streets when it was on offer "inside".
It has long been recognised by anti-homelessness initiatives that one of the largest problems in dealing with rough sleepers is to persuade them to come off the streets into shelters, where there are often empty spaces.
But Ms Casey's comments have not been well received by the charities she criticised.
Big Issue director Sally Steinton told BBC News Online she "could not believe" that Ms Casey would make such a statement about the Big Issue.
Defending the magazine's work, she said it gives people access to "a legitimate income as an alternative to begging".
"Many of our sellers don't even live on the streets but in hideous hostels and bed-and-breakfasts."
The criticisms were "absolutely ridiculous", she said, adding: "Louise Casey is an intelligent woman, and I cannot believe she would say such a thing.
"I need to discuss this with her myself before making any further comment."
Chris Holmes, Director of Shelter told BBC News Online the story was not new, and he was not surprised by the controversy.
"Two years ago, Shelter was saying clearly and publicly that there needed to be a shift in emphasis from short-term to long-term work with street homeless people," he said.
He said the voluntary sector as a whole, including Shelter, had sometimes got the "balance wrong", but added it "does not mean there is not a need for emergency help for those on the street".
And Bill Cochrane of the Salvation Army told the paper that although they had expressed concern about the "ad hoc nature of some soup runs", the group would continue to help people on the streets.
Further measures to tackle homelessness are on the way. The Rough Sleeper's Unit is due to publish recommendations in the near future about how to cut the estimated 2,000 people living rough by two-thirds.