'Don't give food to the homeless, ring our hotline': minister tells public

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The Independent Online

The public should not give money or food to the homeless, the Housing minister has said, urging people instead to ring a new "homelessness hotline" which will alert a network of welfare charities who can help.

The new national helpline for members of the public concerned about a rough sleeper in their area, StreetLink, is billed by the Government as an alternative to hand-outs and is backed by 500 charities.

Operators will pass on information about a homeless person's location and circumstances to support services in their area, which will then offer them help. The scheme, which has been trialled successfully in London, Liverpool and Manchester since last year, is backed by Housing minister Mark Prisk, below, who urges people to offer "a hand-up, rather than a handout".

"Most people know that giving money or food won't help a rough sleeper find a home, get the healthcare they need, or simply put them in touch with the support available to make sure they don't become entrenched in the lifestyle or living on the streets," Mr Prisk said. The Government is providing £250,000 funding for the helpline.

Matt Harrison, from Homeless Link, which is managing the project, said that the question of giving money to homeless people was "a matter of conscience" for individuals. "There are people who have worked with homeless people for years who still routinely give spare change and there are people equally experienced who prefer not to and will put people in touch with services instead," he said.

"What we're providing through StreetLink is something to do instead, or as well. Phone up our helpline or go to our website and tell us that there is someone sleeping rough in your area and we'll put them in touch with their local authority and see what can be done to help them."

Mr Harrison said anecdotal evidence from homeless shelters suggested cuts to benefit payments, along with uncertainty about the scale of future welfare reform, has led to private landlords evicting people on short-hold tenancies. "That indicates that landlords are concerned about whether people have sufficient benefits to cover their rent. We don't know what the impact of the other welfare reforms will be but we're concerned about it," he said.

In London, the "No Second Night Out" trial has led to 70 per cent of new rough sleepers in 2011 spending only one night on the streets, compared to 54 per cent in 2010.

To let Streetlink know about a homeless person in need of help in your area call 0300 500 0914 or visit streetlink.org.uk

According to recent official figures, nearly 2,200 people were sleeping rough on any one night in Autumn 2011 – up by a fifth in one year.