Doubts over cash for homeless

Homelessness charities will shift their emphasis to single homeless people and cheap housing in order to help people who fall through the net of the Government's pledge to end bed-and-breakfast accommodation for families by March 2004.

According to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) new homelessness directorate set up last week, £125 million will be available. Although many in the sector broadly welcomed last week's announcement of extra money, there is scepticism about the probable effectiveness of the latest approach to homelessness. Charities and local government remain in the dark about exactly how much new funding will be available and where it will be targeted.

A Shelter spokesman said the true value was more like £95 million. Of that, £35 million is earmarked for housing associations and local government.

The Local Government Association said it was awaiting further details on "how and where the money will be targeted".

Homelessness charity Crisis is concerned that the emphasis on families might lead to a two-tier system, with families fast-tracked ahead of the estimated 400,000 single homeless.

"There's 12,000 people in B&B accommodation. So it's okay for half of them to live there, but not the other half. What if you're a 16 year old with a drug problem and a mental illness?

said Shaks Ghosh chief executive of Crisis.

Shelter said that 83,000 to 99,000 new affordable homes were needed each year if the Government really wanted to tackle homelessness. "This money is really welcome but the next stop is long-term investment from the Treasury Spending Review. Temporary accommodation is at an all-time high,

said a spokesman.

Philip Burke, spokesman for the Simon Community, a small homelessness project based in the south east, does not believe the money will make a difference to his project. "We're sick of talking-shops and targets,

he said.

The DTLR's new homeless directorate is made up of the existing Rough Sleepers Unit, with two new teams added, one to deal with B&Bs and the other to advise local authorities on the upcoming Homelessness Act. The directorate is headed by Louise Casey, who was criticised by charities for massaging the number of street sleepers while head of the Rough Sleepers Unit last year.

The combination of Casey and DTLR minister Stephen Byers is too much for many people working in the homelessness sector, said Burke. "A lot of people in the sector have no confidence in Casey or Byers. Neither has been brought to book for their past misdemeanours,

he said.

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