`Homelessness tsar' gets tough

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THE "HOMELESSNESS tsar" last night called on Britons to stop giving handouts to rough sleepers thus encouraging them to stay on the streets.

Louise Casey, who was appointed head of the government's Rough Sleepers' Unit in February, angered charity workers and the Big Issue magazine with her calls for a change in culture towards the homeless.

In a newspaper interview, Ms Casey said: "With soup runs and other kinds of charity help, well-meaning people are spending money servicing the problem on the streets and keeping it there. Even the Big Issue is perpetuating the problem.

"There is a sense of belonging on the streets and a feeling of safety in numbers. But where there is help inside, people should not take their help on to the streets."

Ms Casey has plans to cut, over the next two years, the numbers of people sleeping rough - now about 2,000 - by two-thirds. But she said people were getting so much help on the streets they would often give up trying to find housing.

"There is a plethora of services on the streets," she said. "You can get a better sleeping bag on the Strand than you can in the camping shop Blacks."

The Big Issue's director, Sally Steinton, said she would be "horrified" if anyone were saying such things, arguing that the magazine gave homeless people an income preventing them from having to beg.

Bill Cochrane, of the Salvation Army, said the charity would continue soup runs and giving clothing and sleeping bags to people on the streets. "We have expressed our concern about the ad hoc nature of some soup runs because they are unreliable for those in real need. But as long as there are people out there on the streets, we will go to them."