Govt 'running to stand still' as they announce more homes to fight homelessness

Govt 'running to stand still' as they announce more homes to fight homelessness
Pic: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

The Government says 1,350 people have exited homelessness in the first six months of the year.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has announced that more rapid-build homes, and an additional 230 emergency beds for rough sleepers, will be made available between November and January.

He has reiterated his commitment to end the use of hotels for homeless accommodation, except in limited circumstances by the middle of next year.

Minister Coveney admits tackling the homeless issue is not an easy task.

He said: "In the first half of this year 1,350 sustainable exits have been achieved and by the end of the year they said there will be over 2,700.

"That is more people being taken out of homelessness in Ireland this year than ever before, ironically at a time when we have more people who are homeless.

"We are running to stand still in some ways at the moment and so further accelereation is needed to start reducing those overall numbers."

Minister Coveney said that the Housing Agency has already bought 171 properties and more than 730 homes have been offered to the agency for sale.

He also said that so far this year more than 450 tenancies have been secured and he said "we are confident we will exceed the target for this year". He said that 69% of the households accommodated under the pilot are families with children.

Some of the Action Plan's main commitments are:

* We aim to ensure that by mid-2017, commercial hotels will only be used in limited circumstances to accommodate homeless families.

* We are accelerating the provision of the ‘Rapid Build’ programme. By the end of 2018 at least 1,500 units will be provided. This year we will have some 300 homes under construction or completed by the end of the year. We have projects in Ballyfermot, Drimnagh, Belcamp and Finglas which have had enabling works carried out and construction is expected to commence next month.

* We are expanding HAP Homeless Tenancies to deliver 550 in 2016 and 1,200 in 2017.

* Additional 200 emergency beds for rough sleepers to be put in place before end of year at a cost of up to €4m.

* The Housing Agency will purchase 1,600 vacant properties and a number of these will be used to provide permanent homes for homeless families.

* The increased supply of social housing targeted in the Plan - 47,000 homes by the end of 2021 will also ensure that more homes are provided for those who are homeless and for those at risk of homelessness.

* Rebuilding Ireland also includes a range of important measures aimed at supporting homeless families with children in emergency accommodation, including the provision of dedicated child support workers, home-school liaison staff, access to free public transport, access to crèches and pre-school services and measures to address their nutritional needs.

* We are strengthening our effort to provide rough sleepers with a home, by tripling the target for the Housing First teams in Dublin from 100 tenancies to 300 tenancies and by strengthening the housing-led approach in other urban areas. HSE funding will increase from €2m this year to €6m next year to provide health, mental health and addiction supports to rough sleepers and people in emergency accommodation, who often have complex needs that must be addressed in tandem with the provision of stable housing.

* We must continue to prevent people from becoming homeless. People in serious mortgage arrears will be provided with increased access to legal and financial advice and more households will be facilitated under the Mortgage to Rent scheme, while existing measures to protect tenants in the private rented sector will be extended nationwide.

Homeless children will get free school transport from mid-October but Children's Minister Katherine Zappone was forced to defend plans to give their families free travel passes for day trips.

Pic: Collins
Pic: Collins

"Clearly what we're trying to do is make it easier to cope with a very difficult circumstance and several children and young people we have spoken to have said that would be a great thing for them," she said.

The number of social houses being built is to increase from 74 last year to more than 1,500 this year and another 2,300 next year.

"That on top of a more aggressive acquisition programme, getting voids back into use, we are going to see a dramatic increase in the availability of social housing," Mr Coveney said.

Elsewhere, Tusla is to be asked to support about 40 young people who leave state care each year as they begin to search for accommodation.

Other commitments pledged by the Government in July were also repeated including only allowing limited use of hotels and bed and breakfasts for emergency homeless accommodation by the middle of next year.

Campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said: "Until we see the monthly figures of the homeless reducing I will reserve my applause."

The charity chief also hit out at continued plans to develop dormitory-style accommodation for rough sleepers, which he said many refuse to use for fear of being robbed or targeted by drug dealers.

Focus Ireland's director of advocacy Mike Allen said: "The minister has repeatedly referred to tackling homelessness being like trying to empty the bath with the taps full on but there is very little in this plan to turn off the taps now."

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