Short-term solutions unpopular on the street: Glenda Cooper found that London hostel dwellers were again feeling like scapegoats

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The Independent Online
DOMINIC, wearing a woolly hat and white T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off at the shoulder, laughs when he hears of the Government's new criteria for the homeless. 'Reasonable and suitable accommodation? I suppose they mean a room 6ft by 4ft with a wash-basin thrown in.'

He has been homeless for three years since the break-up of his marriage. 'I've been in three or four hostels since then,' he said.

'I'm waiting to get a house and I've been told I'll get priority because of health reasons. I don't know what'll happen, but I think it's unfair to say the homeless jump the queue. People on these streets are ill. The Government is just making the homeless scapegoats again.'

He stays in the West End House, a hostel off Dean Street in Soho. Yesterday, he was sitting in a doorway in Soho Square with a group of fellow homeless people.

'It's been improved tenfold since the housing association took over in April. The cubicles are just big enough to fit a single bed in, but at least they have wooden partitions now - they used to be blankets,' he said.

Zoe, barefoot and with a half- shaven head, says she is 16 but looks much younger. She left home in April and went to live in Soho Square. 'My parents said 'sort your life out or leave home', so I left.

'I'll stay in a night shelter if I'm alone but I'd rather be on the streets with my mates.

'The hostels are disgusting and when you're on the streets you get used to being free and taking control of your life. I can't get on a waiting list yet - I'm not old enough.

'The Government should be doing more to help people - John Major's an absolute prat. They've made begging illegal and the police lay into us. They don't understand what it's like living on the street and I don't think they want to understand.'

Pat, who has lived in and out of hostels for the past two-and-a-half years, agrees: 'The Government needs to give more help and advice. I've lived in hostels, on the streets and I lost my two big toes through frostbite. I'd work if I could - if I was given the opportunity of course I would - but I can't walk properly now.'

Zoe interrupts: 'They only offer us crappy jobs any way - real menial work. When I'm old enough I'm going back to college to do environmental studies.'

(Photograph omitted)