COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Homelessness bosses criticise begging laws

The chief executives of the UK's three biggest homelessness charities met for the first time last week to discuss ways of campaigning against the Government's plans to criminalise begging.

The meeting between Shelter's Adam Sampson, Crisis' Shaks Ghosh and Centrepoint's Anthony Lawton resulted in a joint demand for a meeting with Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The united front also heralds a new dawn of co-operation in the homelessness sector a year on from the collapse of merger talks between Shelter and Crisis.

Lawton suggested the get-together when The Independent leaked that the Government was preparing to introduce measures to prosecute beggars in its White Paper on anti-social behaviour.

The meeting took place at Centrepoint's London headquarters on Tuesday, the day Labour released the White Paper. The following day the three organisations issued a joint statement expressing their "deep concern" at the proposals.

Lawton, who joined Centrepoint as chief executive 15 months ago, and Sampson, who started at Shelter in January, are relative newcomers to the homelessness sector.

They and Ghosh are keen to repair the damage caused by last year's aborted merger.

"There is now a real mood of co-operation between us," said Ghosh, who met Sampson before he took up his new role.

The growing cordiality is likely to lead to further meetings but the limits of togetherness between the trio remain unclear.

In an interview with Third Sector, Sampson hinted that Shelter would consider re-entering merger discussions with Crisis in a sector widely perceived as overcrowded.

However, Ghosh remains cool on the idea. "It was our trustees who decided to pull out of the merger," she said. "We looked at it carefully and came to the conclusion that we can do more for homeless people as two charities. We are different organisations.

"I'd be interested in talking to Sampson if he wanted to discuss it, but I haven't thought about merger since 8 March last year."

Lawton, who has said it would be more helpful for the Government to deal with fewer homelessness charities, hopes for further joint action. "It's vitally important that we operate together whenever we can," he said.

- See Newsmaker, p14.

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