Right of Reply: Chris Holmes

The Director of Shelter replies to criticisms in an article by Deborah Orr concerning charitable attempts to solve the problems of homelessness
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The Independent Culture
CONTRARY TO Deborah Orr's implications (Independent, 16 November), the campaigners for homeless people, Shelter and Crisis, do want to find a hostel bed for anyone who may be forced to sleep on the streets at the turn of the millennium.

We shall be working hard to achieve this goal, alongside other agencies and faith groups. However, her assertion that there are enough beds for all street homeless people is a massive generalisation and a dangerous one at that. The reality on the streets is more complex than she suggests. Shelter's 24-hour housing advice line "Shelterline" receives calls every day from people without a roof over their heads who cannot access even emergency hostel accommodation.

We know that around the country people cannot find emergency hostel beds. In London there is a crisis because there are few bed spaces available; and many people are not able to move on from hostels. So the hostels are silting up because of a severe lack of affordable housing. This problem needs, in turn, to be tackled by investment in new homes. And this is equally the case outside London, where provision is patchy to say the least.

Shelter believes that a strategic approach must be taken to attempt to achieve the Government's target to reduce street homelessness by two- thirds by 2002. Alongside increased investment in affordable housing, which would enable people to move on from hostels - with added support for those with complex needs - the Millennium Plus initiative launched this week will combine the provision of emergency bed spaces over the winter period with housing advice to help people off the streets.

Our combined aim needs to be to link short-term emergency help with long- term solutions, which will ultimately help people to rebuild their lives.