EDITORIAL: Innovative ideas provide clients with more choice

LUCY MAGGS

Cold dark evenings and the prospect of an over-indulgent Christmas spent with friends and family makes homelessness a particularly uncomfortable issue at this time of year.

Despite this, Crisis is struggling to find the 2,000 volunteers it needs to run its traditional Open Christmas shelters over the festive period.

It predicts that only 500 people will offer their support.

Homelessness charities, particularly in London, have been criticised in the past for alienating the public by duplicating services. The number of rough sleepers does not immediately seem to justify the large number of homelessness charities operating in the city.

But although rough sleepers are the visible face of homelessness, they are not the only concern for charities working in this area. Shelter has launched a series of campaigns about housing and the conditions people in temporary accommodation suffer, while Centrepoint is to relaunch with a focus on working with socially excluded young people to try and prevent them ending up on the streets.

Imagination and innovation are two of the voluntary sector's greatest strengths, and qualities that homelessness organisations seem to have in abundance. Charities have recognised that tackling homelessness is not just about providing beds and have set up a selection of programmes to appeal to beneficiaries with a huge variety of needs.

The idea of charities across the sector duplicating services and competing for resources is something that the Government feels could jeopardise its plans for public service provision. The question has been raised of whether the Charity Commission should be given the power to force charities to merge in the interests of a more efficient sector. But aside from the argument that it is not the role of a regulator to do this, it could result in a series of monolithic organisations, providing basic services and reducing choice.

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