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Posted on 14 December 2001 at 13:07 GMT

Homeless Headcount Farce

IT'S CHRISTMAS so once again well-heeled politicians are scrambling for that photo opportunity with the homeless.

Steve Nally, London homelessness worker

Tony Blair's at it of course, with a large portion of New Labour spin. Government boasts that it is tackling homelessness ring a little hollow when you consider that around 400,000 people still live in temporary accommodation.

For them Christmas will not be full of cheer but laced with the stress of 'living' in hostels, bed and breakfast accommodation and squats. Add in the unknown figure of overcrowding and you have a situation in Blair's Britain where a sizeable amount of the population has no roof over their head that is decent and secure.

These are the hidden homeless - forever one step away from life on the streets and all its dangers.

New Labour, through its puppets in the Rough Sleepers Unit, now claims that rough sleeping has been slashed by two thirds. A recent headcount showed that the number of street homeless people had fallen to 500 from 1,850 in 1998.

Sadly, the headcount would be a farce if its consequences were not so tragic. In the run up to a street headcount enormous pressure is put on homeless agencies to take people in regardless of the difficulties it may cause. Sometimes the police are used to threaten arrest against those reluctant to go inside. In effect the streets are cleared in a cynical manoeuvre to massage the real figures down.

Once the count is out of the way many of those forced inside go back onto the streets, resentful at being used as pawns in government policy. This makes even harder the task of those genuinely working to bring people off the streets. So Louise Casey, the homelessness Tsarina, gets the praise while homelessness workers get the grief.

Government pressure to force homeless people off the streets means that many move away from the city centres to areas where they face problems accessing the services they need. In central London Westminster council treats the homeless as an eyesore to be moved on so that the wealthy and tourists do not have to see the reality for many in London today.

Homeless people do not need headcounts and hassle but safe, affordable, and where necessary, supported, housing.

This government's homelessness policy is all about image. In Blair's brave new world people sleeping in shop doorways are bad for business. Unfortunately with a world recession looming no amount of hype will stop even more people being driven onto our streets.

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