We welcome the continued commitment from Housing Minister Simon Coveney to tackle the housing and homeless crisis.
Rebuilding Ireland has set out ambitious plans for large-scale social housing delivery. Until the plan reaches the output levels needed, we must ensure that all other appropriate measures are in place to help tackle homelessness.
We must ensure we take the appropriate steps to reduce the number of people on our streets and to this end we welcome the increase in Housing First targets. But we must also reduce the number of people in emergency accommodation and the number of people going into commercial hotels and B&Bs.
We welcome the minister’s commitment to end the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs to accommodate homeless families.
The Rapid Build programme, which should be scaled up and rolled out, will be critical in achieving this goal.
As we wait for the social houses to come on stream, there are three key steps that need to be taken. The first is to build and scale up prevention measures already in place.
The tenancy protection scheme is one measure that has done amazing work in preventing people entering homelessness, by keeping tenants in their homes. By increasing the capacity and resources of the scheme, we can help prevent further cases of homelessness in the coming months.
It also important to acknowledge the issue of poverty as a major cause of homelessness. Any study of people entering homelessness, including those entering hotels and B&Bs, will find that the underlying issue for many is poverty.
An increase in allowances and strategic targeting of social welfare supports can only strengthen and complement prevention strategies already in place to prevent people becoming homeless. Clearly, we need an enhanced role for social protection in preventing homelessness.
The second step is to go after the empty homes, the low-hanging fruit of housing supply. In early March, we hosted Ireland’s first empty homes conference, which heard from experts from Ireland and abroad who underlined the huge potential that exists in the area of empty homes.
We welcome the minister’s repair and leasing scheme, which will be launched in the coming days. It has the potential to see thousands of homes coming back into the housing system.
This scheme and other new initiatives will sit alongside changes to the process for adapting some commercial buildings to residential.
All of these measures combined can help to quickly and cost-effectively ensure that empty homes play a key role in housing supply.
Finally, it is also essential that anyone in need of shelter has access to it. At a minimum, our response must ensure everyone has access to high quality emergency accommodation and professional supports.
Since December, a total of 238 new emergency beds have come into the system in Dublin and a further 100 are earmarked to come into operation shortly.
We believe every resource and every available building should be assessed as regards its suitability for providing new homeless accommodation.
It is important that people have access to shelter because it means more people can get off the street, more people access proper assessment, access keyworkers and support services and be put on a pathway to housing.
Clearly though, in the medium and long-term the response to homelessness must be all about housing, housing, and housing.
Pat Doyle is CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust
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