Volunteers accuse government of neglect for the homeless

By staff writers
January 3, 2010

Volunteers working with church and secular homeless relief and action groups over the Christmas period have accused the government of failing to respond adequately to the needs of rough sleepers during the cold snap.

More than 2,000 homeless people slept at seven Crisis Open Christmas shelters in London over the Christmas holiday period.

The Department of Communities and Local Government had assured Crisis that efforts would be made to find further beds for the homeless men and women. But as they closed at the end of 2009, no further accommodation had been made available, reports Independent Catholic News (ICN).

Activists say that the homeless are now now back on the streets in freezing temperatures. Only voluntary projects run by churches have been able to take care of a few more people, says ICN.

One volunteer, Philip Burke, has sent a detailed letter to Michelle Binfield at the Department of Communities and Local Government, with copies to MPs.

Noting government targets, he declared: "It would be great to get people off the streets by 2012, but our experience [this Christmas] showed us there was a real lack of beds, hostel places, supported facilities, easy access to detox and self-referral shelters."

Mr Burke continued: "Many of those from the accession countries of the EU, particularly Poland, had nowhere to go other than the streets, as they often have no recourse to public funds. This excludes them from accessing almost all mainstream homeless hostels - which are entirely funded by the civic authorities. Homeless nationals are left in the cold and heavily reliant on church [and] charity shelters, and handouts to survive, particularly during these bitter conditions.

"While I understand that the Department for Communities and Local Government facilitated meetings in the lead up to the Crisis Christmas effort, its seems to me, and others involved, that there needs to be a radical shift in policy, so that nobody is beyond the help of the State. Until this happens, we will continue to see a burgeoning street homeless population, which is so evident across London and beyond, where so many are forced to turn to faith-based charities for help and compassion.

"It is incumbent on politicians on all sides to come together as a matter of urgency to discuss a better way forward, bringing together those agencies, often faith based charities, who work day in, day out with people on the streets who cannot access mainstream provision, usually as a result of outrageous bureaucracy that so often prevents people from receiving basic humanitarian help - starting with emergency accommodation.

"I am calling for immediate action given that Crisis has now closed its residential provision for another year, but many will be forced to sleep rough in sub-zero conditions tonight, tomorrow and the day after whilst the rest of us have a warm home to go to," concluded the Crisis volunteer.

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