Charity boss demands action to stop rise in rough sleeping

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The Government must co-ordinate its approach to tackling rough sleeping or the number of vulnerable people living on the streets will continue to rise, the head of a homelessness charity has warned.

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo's, said the Government's failure to "join up" its efforts in housing, health care and rehabilitation meant that the resources already available were not being used as wisely as possible.

"I'm not saying please give us loads more money, I'm just saying can you just co-ordinate it so that the resources there are are used to best effect because they are not being currently. I'm saying this as a priority: these are really, really vulnerable people," he told the Press Association.

Mr Sinclair warned that if the Government did not act, the number of people sleeping rough would rise and "we will end up with it being more costly to hospitals, to our criminal justice system and more costly to neighbourhoods - and more costly to the individuals".

More than 3,500 people sleep rough in England, according to government figures published earlier this year.

"I think that these are the most vulnerable of people in our society and often their behaviour masks their vulnerability and we rightly should be judged as a society by how we treat our most vulnerable," Mr Sinclair said.

Only 32% of areas with 10 or more people sleeping rough on any one night had mental health services targeted at homeless people, research published by St Mungo's last month found.

It suggested that people at risk of homelessness - including those with mental health issues - were often not considered a priority and were offered little meaningful assistance.

Mr Sinclair said that it was not a lack of will on the part of the Government to tackle the issue, but simply that there were too many other pressing concerns being prioritised.

"Sadly it's only as the numbers increase that it does move up the list (of priorities)," he said, despite believing that politicians "care deeply" about rough sleeping.

His warning to the Government comes after Labour pledged to end the "national shame" of rough sleeping within its next term in government, claiming they would double the number of homes ring-fenced for rough sleepers.

Mr Sinclair backed the idea but said there was more to homelessness than simply a lack of housing - with people often facing difficulties forming and maintaining positive relationships, needing to improve their skills and employability, and dealing with challenging mental health issues.

"It is very, very vulnerable people, with very complex needs, and the numbers are going up, the resources are getting harder and we need to be much more clever as a society about how we use that resource and that will take leadership from central government."

He also stressed that homelessness was not only a problem at Christmas, despite the emphasis placed on the issue during the festive season.

"Homelessness is not about Christmas - homelessness is about vulnerable people every day of the year."

The number of people on the streets goes up in January, February and March because families who have "held it together" for Christmas then "fall apart" in the new year, Mr Sinclair explained.

"We get busy again at the beginning of January once all the focus of others has shifted and then we get back with the job of dealing with homelessness 365 days a year."