State ‘running to stand still’ on homelessness says Housing Minister Simon Coveney

Rapid-build homes under construction in Ballymun earlier this year. Picture: Rollingnews.ie

Housing Minister Simon Coveney says he expects there will be objections to rapid-build homes being built for the homeless in communities, as he launched a plan to tackle the crisis.

Mr Coveney also admitted the Government was “running to stand still” as the numbers of people exiting homelessness are being replaced with greater numbers of people without homes.

Launching the Government’s action plan on homelessness, he committed to ending the use of hotels or B&Bs for emergency accommodation by the middle of next year.

The Irish Examiner understands the cost to the State of hotels and B&Bs being used for emergency accommodation in Dublin City alone is €46m annually.

But the numbers of homeless are still not falling. While 1,350 exited homelessness in the first half of this year, figures in August show there were more than 6,600 people using emergency beds.

There is still a huge challenge in tackling homelessness, admitted Mr Coveney: “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.

Simon Coveneny
Simon Coveneny

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

The plan recommits the Government to building 1,500 rapid-build units by 2018. But this will take time because of planning, preparing sites for builds, and dealing with local concerns.

“You need to create acceptance amongst communities so you don’t get people blockading it like you had with the Ballymun site for a while. And like we will have with some of the new sites I expect, which we’re going to push through,” said Mr Coveney.

Up to 330 rapid-builds could be finished by the end of this year. Such projects are under way in Ballyfermot, Drimnagh, Belcamp and Finglas. The plan also commits to using a special €70m fund to initially make 1,600 vacant units available for those in need of homes.

It was also announced that a special transport voucher system will be put in place for families, a scheme which will be launched next month.

Elsewhere, increased supports will be made available for drug addiction, mental health problems, and homeless children in schools. Many agencies and charities welcomed the action plan.

Responding to the announcement, campaigner Fr Peter McVerry questioned why the rapid builds would take so long to construct.

Barnardos charity welcomed free transport and pre-school care for children, but also said families need access to hygienic cooking facilities, laundry facilities and a safe space for kids to play.

The Simon Communities said commitments made by Cabinet members are very welcome.

Focus Ireland said more needed to be done to halt the rise in the number of families becoming homeless.

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