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London `hogs money for homeless'

AGENCIES HELPING the hom-eless outside London say they are becoming increasingly frustrated at the "disproportionate" allocation of funds to the capital.

As proof that the funding scales have tipped too far, critics point to the Government's recent allocation of pounds 145m over the next three years to finance a new Rough Sleeping Unit in the capital, which will be headed by a "Homelessness Czar".

On the same day, the minister for Local Government and Housing, Hilary Armstrong, announced a three-year pounds 34m Homelessness Action Programme, money to be fought over by the rest of the country.

Ms Armstrong subsequently launched the Government's pounds 4m Winter Shelter Programme with the promise of more than 500 extra bed spaces at the beginning of the month.

Only 73 of these were allocated to centres outside London - Bristol, Cambridge and Brighton. The rest will be scattered across the capital from Camden to Southwark.

The National Homeless Alliance estimates that two-thirds of the nation's rough sleepers are to be found outside London.

Maurice Condie, chief executive of the Byker Bridge Housing Association, in Newcastle, said the situation in many regional cities had reached crisis point but agencies were not receiving additional resources to tackle the problem.

Byker Bridge runs 180 beds for the homeless, including an 18-bed direct access hostel aimed at those sleeping on the streets. "At our direct access hostel we are regularly four times oversubscribed. It's normally full but if we do have a vacancy it's gone within three to four hours, not days," he said.

Mr Condie said the problems faced by organisations outside London were "fundamentally different" to those in the capital, and needed a specialised approach.

The burning issue in the North-east was not a lack of housing but the lack of a well-funded support network to help those suffering from mental health problems and alcohol and drug addiction, he said.

Staff at Byker Bridge described Ms Armstrong's pounds 11m annual package as "a drop in the ocean".