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What\'s in \'No One Left Out\'?

May 23 2009
The government‘s focus on getting people into private sector housing ignores the fundamental lack of available housing, say critics A fresh push to reduce the number of rough sleepers to almost zero by 2012 has been outlined in a new government strategy. The arguably woolly No One Left Out document, published in November 2008, states rough sleeping has been reduced by two-thirds in the last 10 years but recognises there is a "constant flow" of new people onto the streets. The strategy lays down a commitment to tackling the problem through initiatives such as working hostels, increased move-on accommodation and a new 'London Delivery Board'. With promises to build on the success of the last decade, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We are setting out new plans to prevent people ending up on the streets and renewing our determination to end rough sleeping once and for all". Big homelessness charities and smaller voluntary organisations all welcome the government's commitment to end rough sleeping and the paper's call for greater partnership between services. Crisis's Chief Executive, Leslie Morphy said: "We warmly welcome the package of measures announced today. "In particular, we are delighted to see a commitment to consider changes to the statutory safety net available to those at risk of rough sleeping, alongside increased prevention work and alternative housing options to stop people from ending up on the streets in the first place." The government has stated it will "consider proposals to reform the homelessness legislation", easing the strict criteria for support, as they recognise many people slip through the net when most in need of help. The document contains a 15-point action plan for the next four years which includes a proposal for 'working hostels' to hopefully provide less chaotic emergency accommodation for people with jobs only. The idea was the brainchild of homelessness charity Housing Justice. Regional co-ordinator Alistair Murray said: "Most homelessness services are geared toward people with high support needs. If your only problem is that you don't have a house, then there isn't much there. This is why we suggested working hostels". Other plans include the creation of "up to" 300 additional private sector accommodation units for people moving out of hostels in London, where there is a particular lack of move-on places for rent. These will be let on a two-year assured tenancy. Also in the capital, Mayor Boris Johnson will lead a new London Delivery Board to eradicate rough sleeping across the city by 2012, the year of the Olympics. Meeting for the first time in February, the Board will also look at how to draw people away from the central homeless hotspot boroughs of Westminster and the City. The Mayor's office was unavailable to provide details about how these aims will be achieved. Street homeless for six years, Michael Penrose was worried action in the city would be a repeat of 'Operation Poncho' which sought to 'clean up the city' last year. He said: "trying to deter people from a particular area is a form of corporate harassment, and has only minimal results in real terms. It is just a dispersal and displacement exercise." However, the government's focus remains very much on getting people into private sector housing. But accommodation remains variable in quality, cost and consistency, and critics argue the fundamental lack of available housing goes unaltered. Murray said: "The background to all of this is the crisis of shortage of housing, and it's only going to get worse. Rents are higher in the private sector unless you apply for housing benefit. But all that money that goes into housing people in the private sector could go into building new houses." In London especially, housing is desperately short supply and Boris Johnson scrapped Ken Livingston's previous commitment to make 50 per cent of all new housing affordable, claiming it was too rigid a target. Crisis also expressed concern that there are no plans in the proposals to increase the amount of supported or emergency accommodation. They say the paper includes a lot of language about 'encouraging' good service, 'promoting' better working and 'considering' 'possible' reforms. There is little talk of concrete policies back by allocated funds. The key strength of the strategy, though, lies in the pledge to end rough sleeping by 2012. Having made the promise, the government can now be held to account if they do not deliver on it, both in London and on at a national level. Other key 'priorities' are "doing more to support people to access effective health care", prevention evictions and encouraging employment by providing more information about work, volunteering and benefits for support workers. The community will also be better equipped to help prevent homelessness as well, through information websites and volunteer training. How these materialise over the next four years remains to be seen but the fresh focus comes at a vital time as the number of evictions and redundancies keeps rising.
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