Churches and other voluntary groups working with street homeless people in the UK may be stretched to breaking point by a new government ruling denying welfare to refugees who apply for asylum after they have entered the country, a charity warned last night. In an open letter to Beverley Hughes at the Home Office, Mike Tristram, director and Philip Burke, trustee of the Simon Community write: 'As a charitable organisation working with London's street homeless, we are deeply concerned about the government's withdrawal of support from asylum applicants who claim after arriving in this country. This new measure has the potential to seriously aggravate the homelessness crisis and further strain the capacity of voluntary organisations trying to cope with the situation with limited resources. 'The majority of asylum seekers have in the past filed claims a few days after their arrival, often not understanding procedures or acting in fear of customs authorities. The vulnerability of this group is made more acute by the fact that applicants are not permitted to work. 'Homelessness organisations and government agencies have together conducted a lot of research into the causes of homelessness in an attempt to tackle its root causes. It does not require a deep understanding of homeless issues to grasp that leaving an asylum seeker in a foreign country with no source or means of support is a good pre-indicator to them ending up on the streets. 'During our last independent street count, we identified over 300 people sleeping rough in Central London alone. This was an increase of 50% from March last year. The capacity of churches and homelessness agencies to deal with this problem is already overstretched. 'We have been working with street homeless in London for forty years now. Until a change in asylum policy three years ago it was rare that we encountered asylum seekers sleeping rough. Now it is commonplace. This new measure can only exacerbate the situation. 'We believe the new measure to be immoral and inappropriate in a civilised and wealthy society. It also brings into question the government's commitment to tackling homelessness and social exclusion.'
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