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The BBC's Niall Dickson reports
"Mr Blair denied the claims he was against soup runs and charitable help"
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Wednesday, 15 December, 1999, 22:22 GMT
Blair's 'radical change' for homeless

The government's national strategy to reduce rough sleeping will require "radical change", Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

Measures to tackle the problem of street sleeping were unveiled by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' Rough Sleepers Unit.

They include focusing resources on those "most in need" - those with alcohol and drug problems, and mental illness.

To view a summary of the strategy click here

And teams of specialist workers will be set up to target rough sleepers, inform them where they can be accommodated, and where they can get any medical or benefits help.

louise casey, homeless czar Louise Casey insists all funding will come from new money
Former prisoners, service personnel and care leavers will also be targeted in an attempt to stem the flow of homeless people onto the streets.

And cash will be provided to set up new hostel places and permanent homes.

At the launch of the strategy at St Martin In The Fields day centre, central London, Mr Blair said a new approach was needed because "too many people are still coming onto the street".

"I believe that this strategy sets out a way forward which can deliver our vision - a vision of a society where no-one needs to sleep in doorways, and where rough sleeping has become a thing of the past," he said.

Downing Street said Mr Blair had spent 20 minutes chatting to rough sleepers before visiting the day centre.

He said: "What they need is more than just a little bit of help, they need to know there are places that they can go and sleep, they need to know that someone is helping them if they've got a particular problem, helping them find a job.

"There was a 16-year-old girl who had been out on the streets for two years. Well, I mean, that can't be right. She's going to need more than a roof over her head. We've got to help people in that situation."

The head of the RSU, "homeless czar" Louise Casey, has caused uproar with her condemnation of the soup kitchen culture.

But the strategy repeats her views, stating: "We will be asking services to review whether their arrangements for taking help to the streets sustain rough sleeping rather than encouraging people to come inside.

"If soup and clothing runs are still perceived to be needed when this strategy starts to bite, they need to be properly co-ordinated so as to focus on areas of real need."

The strategy has been welcomed cautiously by some charities for the homeless.

But the strategy has been attacked by shadow secretary of state for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, John Redwood MP.

ROUGH SLEEPER Tony Blair said the strategy would make rough sleeping a thing of the past
He says that the money promised is not new, and accuses the government of "betraying the most needy in society".

He said: "The government's own figures show that they are making 3,500 more families homeless each year.

"Ministers say they are putting more money towards helping the homeless - but they are just recycling and re-announcing existing funding yet again.

"Labour's solution to homelessness is to appoint a 90,000-a-year Streets Czar who wants to snatch the warm soup and warm clothing from the homeless and - in her own words - destroy the culture of kindness."

London homeless campaigner Louise St Claire condemned the strategy.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that no single solution could be found to solving homelessness, and that trying to stop compassionate behaviour would not help anyone.

men in hostel Funding for more hostel places is a key part of the strategy
The National Homelessness Alliance, which claims to reach 30,000 homeless people every day with a network of 1,000 workers and volunteers, said it believes the strategy "can go a long way towards addressing the issues faced by rough sleepers".

However, chief executive Jon Fitzmaurice warned that homeless people themselves would have to be involved in decision and policy making for the strategy's aims to be effective.

To view a summary of the strategy click here

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See also:
15 Dec 99 |  UK
Coming in from the Cold: The basics
15 Dec 99 |  UK
Come inside, homeless told
15 Dec 99 |  UK
The czar who 'shoots from the hip'
15 Dec 99 |  UK
Gimme (a home, not) shelter
15 Nov 99 |  UK
Kenny's day on the mean streets
13 Dec 99 |  UK
Homeless 'abused by public'

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