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'Real homes' is the plea

ONE MILLION CHILDREN said to be growing up in overcrowded, unfit or emergency housing will be the focus of Homelessness Sunday, a day of prayer and action in which more than 2000 churches will be taking part this weekend.

About 37,000 households in England were accepted as homeless in 2003-04. Children living in poor conditions are more likely to suffer serious health problems, and their educational prospects are more likely to be blighted, says the Christian charity Housing Justice, which is calling for more affordable social housing to be built.

"For such a rich nation to have so many of its young people living in poverty is a disgrace. The campaign to make poverty history should not just be about places far away, but must include what's going on in our own back yards," said the charity's chief executive, Robina Rafferty.

The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd David Walker, described the lack of affordable housing as a scandal. "People end up in the least attractive areas, away from friends and family: this must be addressed," he said. The Bishop also warned of a growing tension in rural parishes, where local authorities were trying to create affordable housing. "The churches get caught between those in need and the interests of those in the parish concerned about the area in which they live and the capital value of their own properties," he said.

Charities have continued to speak of invisible homelessness in the wake of the Government's pre-Christmas announcement that £150 million is to be used to help the estimated 500,000 homeless people in Britain. The Government's efforts to get rough sleepers off the streets, and the £90 million directed towards hostel modernisation have been welcomed by the Salvation Army, which is to receive £9 million for projects in Southampton, Swindon, Grimsby and Portsmouth. But it warns of a "dire shortage" of resettlement  accommodation.

Shelter is calling on the Government to buy or acquire affordable homes to let in London; and for the limiting of second-home ownership, and a review of the regeneration programme in the north of England, a contributor, it says, to homelessness.

The YMCA also points to the sharp rise in youth homelessness shown in the government statistics: a figure reported to have doubled to 11,150 in the past two years. The charity says that there are more young homeless than the number reported. "These scandalous statistics are just the tip of the iceberg," said the YMCA national secretary, Kevin Williams.

Housing Justice welcomed the Government's five-year housing strategy Homes for All, published on Monday, as offering innovative solutions. But it warned: "We need to move much faster."

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