'Investment in housing cheaper than hostels bill'

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Indy Politics
INVESTING in permanent housing for Britain's record number of homeless people would cost taxpayers less than the network of hostels and other temporary accommodation, Shelter, the housing charity, says today.

It estimates that it costs nearly twice as much to keep the 11,000 families now in bed and breakfast accommodation than providing them with permanent homes, pounds 146m compared with pounds 78m in the first year.

Officially-recorded homelessness has tripled since 1978. In England last year, some 146,000 households were accepted by local authorities as homeless, half the number who had applied to be so designated. Figures for the first six months of 1992 show no improvement in the numbers being accepted by councils as homeless.

If unofficial homelessness is taken into account - including people living in squats or under unauthorised or insecure tenancies - the numbers involved could be as high as 1.7 million, Shelter believes.

Confirmed links between poor housing conditions and ill-health account for some of the hidden costs of failing to reverse present trends. Respiratory diseases caused by condensation, and stress and infections caused by overcrowding, were among the health risks of bad housing. These were often greatest in bed and breakfast establishments, where families often had to live in one room.

Sheila McKechnie, director of Shelter, said that as Britain approached its worse 'recession Christmas' since the 1930s, concerted efforts had to be made to give hope to the homeless. 'We must end this appalling situation where families are forced to live in overcrowded, usually depressing, sometimes downright dangerous hotels for anything up to two years,' she said.

Homes Cost Less than Homelessness; Shelter Publications; 88 Old Street, London EC1; pounds 4.25 plus postage.