Number of people sleeping rough falls by almost a third

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The Independent Online

The number of people sleeping rough on the streets has officially fallen by nearly a third, to slightly more than a thousand people nationwide, although the true number is thought to be much higher.

The number of people sleeping rough on the streets has officially fallen by nearly a third, to slightly more than a thousand people nationwide, although the true number is thought to be much higher.

A report published yesterday by the Government's Rough Sleepers Unit (RSU), shows there has been a 28 per cent decrease in the numbers of homeless people on the streets in the last year. The latest figures show that the Government is on course to meet its pledge to reduce rough sleeping by two-thirds by 2002.

The RSU announced funding of nearly £2.4m to help rough sleepers rebuild their lives, including innovative schemes in such areas as furniture restoration, gardening, catering, IT and "life skills".

Although homeless charities welcomed the recent Government initiatives to house vulnerable people, they said that the report did not reflect the true number of people sleeping on Britain's streets, which was far higher.

They also warned that increasing provision of beds in emergency shelters and hostels was only a temporary measure and without long-term support many people would end up back on the streets.

"Getting people off the streets is a vital first step," said Shaks Ghosh, the chief executive of Crisis, a homeless charity. "We now have solid foundations, but I'm worried about the numbers of people who are coming off the streets only to be warehoused in hostels, emergency shelters and other forms of temporary accommodation for months and even years on end."

"A bed in an emergency shelter is not a home and is not a lasting solution to a person's needs," she said.

Rough sleeping is the most acute form of homelessness but Crisis estimates the "hidden homeless" to number 400,000.

The RSU was set up in April 1999 with a remit to cut homelessness dramatically in three years. In 1999, estimates showed 1,633 rough sleepers across England, with around 600 in London alone.

The latest count shows 1,180 homeless people on the streets in Britain, mostly concentrated in central London. There are 227 people in Westminster alone. Other badly hit areas include Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford and Brighton.

The new figures were released by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions alongside details of how an extra £9.5m will be spent to further cut numbers.

Louise Casey, "homelessness czar" and head of the RSU, said yesterday: "Whilst these new figures indicate good progress in the right direction, the Government is determined to ensure that no one has to sleep out on the nation's streets in the 21st century."

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