Coalition reveals plans to tackle homelessness

Promises to end long-term homelessness have been welcomed as plans to fix up vacant properties and use state-owned buildings to keep families off the streets in the short-term were unveiled.

The Government’s plan to tackle homelessness includes proposals to make 2,700 units available for people by the end of 2016. s

The Cabinet agreed on the measures yesterday following recent warnings from campaigner Fr Peter McVerry that a “tsunami of homelessness” was coming, and from charities that there was a crisis.

There are an estimated 2,660 homeless people in Ireland, half of whom are in the Dublin region.

Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan said 142 families were currently housed in hotels but that children could not grow up in such accommodation.

The plan includes

* 900 new housing units a year until 2016;

* A new social housing rental service in Dublin to co-ordinate needs;

* €35m to get long-term vacant units back into use over the next year;

* The use of units owned by the National Housing Management Agency;

* The use of empty local authority homes and other state properties.

A report by Ms O’Sullivan’s department said there were 127 rough sleepers in Dublin in April and up to 46 in other areas outside the capital.

It noted: “There is an urgent need to provide housing for the cohort of rough sleepers in Dublin.”

Ms O’Sullivan said the situation was a crisis for each family and person who found themselves without a roof over their head.

Charities welcomed the coalition commitment but questioned the long-term plans to end homelessness.

Housing charity Threshold said a system of rent control was needed so landlords could not raise amounts beyond affordable limits for rent supplement recipients.

Ms O’Sullivan said there would be a “flexibility” in rent supplements paid by the State, which will be decided by Dublin regions.

The Clúid Housing Association said priority must be given to acquiring properties that can be quickly converted for use by families who would otherwise be living out of hotels.

Units used to house people could also include adapted Garda stations, quarters near army barracks, and even a number of former hospitals, homes, and care centres vacant around the country.

Responding to the plan, Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen said it was an “election stunt”.

Fr McVerry warned the plan was a “low-cost solution” to the homelessness crisis.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said only an emergency, large-scale public housing programme of 10,000 council houses per year for five years would solve the issue.

“If we don’t build or buy council houses, quite simply, there is no long-term solution to this crisis and it will get worse,” he said.

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