O’Sullivan to present homeless strategy

The number of homeless people across the country is a “scandal”, according to the minister with responsibility for the issue, Jan O’Sullivan, who will present a strategy to tackle the crisis to Cabinet tomorrow.

When the Limerick TD was promoted to the position of “super junior” minister in Dec 2011, she said tackling homelessness would be her “absolute priority”. More than a year on, she admits the figures, while not getting worse, have not improved.

CSO census figures showed 3,808 persons were either sleeping rough or in accommodation designated for the homeless on the night of Apr 10, 2011.

Separate figures from the Simon Community showed a four-fold increase in the number sleeping rough in Cork City from 38 in 2011, to 157 in 2012. In the Dublin region, 1,891 people were confirmed to be homeless as of Sept 2011.

“I’m very committed to addressing the issue of homelessness, because I do think it’s a scandal for any society to have people to have no place they call home,” Ms O’Sullivan told the Irish Examiner. “I want to be able to say at the end of my tenure that we have improved the figures.”

Later this week, she will publish a homelessness policy statement, following approval by Cabinet, and appoint three people to an “oversight group” to ensure it is being implemented.

“One of the things I want to do is get people into long-term homes as opposed to hostels, as quickly as we can and with the supports that are needed,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

This is likely to increase the pressure on the already long list of people on the housing waiting list.

“Because of the economic pressures on families, we have very large housing waiting lists and we don’t have the money to deal with it,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

However, she said work is progressing, particularly in trying to ensure Nama provides as many units as possible for social housing. Some 5,000 units will be provided from the public purse this year, she said.

“We are working with Nama to get as many appropriate housing units as possible for social housing,” she said, adding that 2,000 would be delivered before the next general election.

Ms O’Sullivan sees her role as largely dealing with problems that arose during the previous administration.

“There was too much zoning for housing, so we have inherited issues like unfinished housing estates,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

“The mortgage arrears issue is also a product of the bubble and the growth of the cost of housing which was totally out of equilibrium with people’s ability to pay.”

She insists the Coalition is putting “significant pressure on banks” to sit down with families in arrears, and work out ways that they can make repayments.

Ms O’Sullivan also believes more flexibility is needed from the banks in “accepting payments that people can afford to pay at this point in time”.

“A bit more sympathy, a bit of understanding, and a bit of humility on the part of the banks would go a long way,” she said.

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