Fall of 60% in emergency beds for homeless

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The Independent Online
The number of emergency direct access hostel beds for the homeless in London has fallen by 60 per cent over the past 10 years to less than 2,000, according to a report published yesterday. Time to Move On, launched by the all-party body SHiL (Single Homelessness in London) reveals there are 1,820 direct-access hostel bed spaces in London compared with 4,943 in 1985. Nearly 90 per cent are in the 13 inner-London boroughs and 22 boroughs have no direct access provision.

Direct-access hostels, usually emergency night shelters, accept homeless people without a referral from an agency. They either offer a bed that night or within a few days.

"Voluntary agencies are warning of a looming crisis as they experience difficulty each night in locating vacant hostel beds for those who are on the streets," said Pete Challis, chairman of the SHiL policy committee. "Provision in outer London boroughs is almost non-existent, forcing people to converge on central London in the hope of finding emergency shelter."

Direct-access spaces have traditionally been found in long-established hostels, including the Salvation and Church Army projects. Many have been lost after the closure or change in use of large houses.

The Homeless Network six-monthly audit on those sleeping rough showed a 7 per cent increase since May and in December, Shelter Nightline reported it was unable to find emergency beds for one-third who called the service.

Joe Oldman, campaigner at Char, the charity for the single homeless, said that while emergency access could not replace permanent accommodation, it was a vital frontline service.

"There needs to be a service to provide emergency housing for people where they can just walk in off the street.

"Many people cannot cope with the bureaucracy and referral system in other places. Emergency shelters are vital as a stepping stone on the road to permanent accommodation," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said it had taken the advice of homeless charities when deciding where to allocate the £86m available for the Government's rough sleepers initiative from 1993/94 to 1995/96.

"Every organisation we contacted insisted the second phase of the rough sleepers initiative concentrated on permanent accommodation," he said.

SHiL wants the Government to address the shortage of affordable homes and extend the rough sleepers initiative beyond 1996. Its report also claims nearly 45,000 people in London are homeless and a further 32,000 live in inadequate, overcrowded accommodation.