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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT


The homelessness debate

A quarter of homeless people are under 25

Charities which provide emergency help for homeless people living on the streets have been criticised for prolonging rather than solving the problem.

The government's homeless csar, Louise Casey, said at the weekend that longer term solutions were needed in order to reach Labour's target of reducing the number of rough sleepers by two thirds by 2002.

Homeless charities say the debate has been going on for some time and has been hyped by the media.

Shelter, for example, says it has been arguing for two years that there needed to be a shift in emphasis from short-term to long-term work with street homeless people.

Chris Holmes, the organisation's director of Shelter, said: " I believe that the voluntary sector as a whole, including Shelter, has sometimes got the balance wrong."

However, he added: "That does not mean there is not a need for emergency help for those on the street."

With predictions of rising homelessness because of soaring house prices in many areas, it says there is an urgent need to sort out national policy on the issue.

The government's rough sleepers' unit, which has been running for some years, is to report its recommendations for a future strategy in the next month.


Jon Fitzmaurice, chief executive of the National Homeless Alliance, whose members are all frontline agencies, says recent policy has been towards sustainable solutions.

He hopes the unit will continue this trend.

But he says these must be backed by long-term funding.

"Funding for day centres and hostels has been fragmented," he said.

He added that day centres were an important gateway to services such as primary healthcare, counselling and training.

"Soup runs have a role, but we would like to see organisations like day centres better resourced.

"They don't just help someone on the street. They help get them off the street," he stated.

"Services on the street present a limited opportunity for interface between the person providing emergency care and the recipient, although they can be life-saving.

"But they are more of a band aid than a solution and some have duplicated services and are not coordinated. We would like to see a more curative approach."

But the Salvation Army disagrees, arguing that soup runs are "a means of making first contact with people in order to establish good relationships with them and to discover how we can best help them".

Mental illness

Mr Fitzmaurice says homelessness is a complex problem, particularly in London which has a high number of homeless asylum seekers.

"Because of the complexity of the situation it is difficult to disentangle the problems," said Mr Fitzmaurice.

Many homeless people are also mentally ill. Others are young single people who have lost their homes because of benefits changes, he said.

"Homeless groups often have to deal with the unintended effects of other government policy," he said.

"People have multiple needs and actual rooflessness may be just one factor which requires a multi-agency response."

Chris Holmes agrees that a multi-agency approach is vital.

He said: "We strongly support joint working between the government, organisations like Shelter and faith and community groups and for strategic services to be put in place so that this can be achieved."

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