Speech to Simon Community Seminar: Housing, Homelessness and Rights

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Speech to  Simon Community Seminar

Housing, Homelessness and Rights

Monday, 26th September 2016

Good morning.

As we all know, we have a national housing crisis. The broken housing market has led to consistent under-supply of homes since 2009.

Rebuilding Ireland – The Government’s Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness is about fixing the range of individual, but totally inter-dependent factors, crucial to a proper functioning market. It is solution focused. It is well resourced. Implementation is underway.

To remind ourselves of where we’re at in terms of homelessness:

During a single week in August, 4,248 adult individuals and 2,363 children used emergency accommodation. That’s 6,611 people. The children are part of 1,151 families in emergency accommodation.

Almost 90% of these families are in the Dublin Region, where just over 650 of them are accommodated in hotels any given night.

While Rebuilding Ireland kicks in and social housing supply increases, actions on homelessness can’t wait. That’s why Pillar 1 focuses on how to move people out of homelessness and also prevent people falling into homelessness.

Response to Date and why Rebuilding Ireland is Different

Homelessness is not easy to solve and requires a response across multiple Government Departments and Agencies. Pillar 1, as launched last Thursday, like the rest of the Plan, brings together the actors needed to make it happen. It has buy-in and support across the relevant Government Departments and Agencies to make actions happen.

Key Actions for Exiting Homelessness

Let me tell you about some of the key initiatives which will help move people out of homelessness, and where we’re at on them.

Out of Hotels

The Plan commits to ensuring that by mid-2017, hotels will only be used as emergency accommodation in limited circumstances. For that to happen we have 3 key actions and targets.

Firstly, at least 1,500 rapid-build homes will be delivered by end-2018. We will have more than 320 homes either complete or under construction on site by end-2016. Sites for a further 200 have already been identified and work is ongoing to identify sites for a further 500 homes to be constructed in 2017.

It is important to emphasise that Rapid build is just part of a broader social housing construction programme. Efforts to significantly ramp up social housing construction nationally are taking effect. In 2015, only 74 units were constructed by local authorities. In 2016, more than 1,500 units across 100 sites will be completed or under construction. In 2017, more 2,300 additional units will be completed or under construction. Before year end these figures will increase further.

Secondly, we’re expanding the Homeless HAP scheme in the Dublin Region to create 1,750 tenancies by end-2017; 550 this year and 1,200 next year.

We’ve created 450 tenancies so far this year, so we’re well on target. Also, 70% of these are families with children.

Including the Dublin scheme, some 715 homeless households have been homed nationally through HAP to date

Thirdly, the Housing Agency has been given a rotating fund of €70m to acquire 1,600 units from banks and investment companies for social housing by 2020.

Already, 737 properties have been referred to the Agency for potential acquisition, with expressions of interest made in respect of 686 of these. Thus far, the Agency has made bids for 96 of these properties, of which 49 have been accepted. Some work done but a lot more to be done.

It’s important to note the on-going and good work done in housing authorities and housing services in moving people out of homelessness. In 2015, 2,315 people were assisted in moving out of homelessness. In 2016, to end-June, over 1,350 sustainable exits have been achieved.

Housing First

Housing First is an approach that puts appropriate housing in place first and then provides the wrap around supports in terms for health and other support that people need.

Rebuilding Ireland commits to tripling the target for housing for rough sleepers provided by the Housing First Teams from the current 100 to 300 by end-2017. Housing first Teams are a consortium of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Focus Ireland and McVerry Trust.

54 individuals have been homed to date under the current programme. Cork City Council is considering arrangements for a similar housing-led initiative. Also, the Department of Housing is considering arrangements to establish a ring-fenced fund for housing-led initiatives across the country in 2017.

Supports for Those in Emergency Accommodation

Families

We are committed to ending the use of hotels for emergency accommodation. In the meantime, we are going to ensure that services and supports for families, and particularly children, are far better.

The Minister for Children and Youth affairs is committed to helping with additional supports to get families out of emergency accommodation including the funding of additional support works.

Other supports being put in place by the Minister for Children include access to Early Year Services, School Completion Programmes, access to free public transport for family travel and school journeys. Practical supports and advice for good nutrition for those with access to cooking facilities.

Individuals/Rough Sleepers

It’s important to ensure that there is sufficient emergency accommodation in the system, particularly as we head into the winter period.

We have requested and received proposals for additional emergency accommodation from Dublin Region Homeless Executive to ensure that no one needs to sleep outdoors this winter.

On Thursday, Minister Coveney announced that 210-230 additional spaces for single homeless adults will be provided over the period November – January in Dublin and he is committed to making funding of up to €4 million available for this purpose.

This emergency accommodation will be city-based in safe, appropriate and good quality facilities which can be brought into use on a temporary basis.

Also, the Action Plan commits to reviewing emergency accommodation capacity nationally to ensure that the facilities and bed-spaces are adequate for demand.

Along with the provision of stable housing, healthcare services have a particular role to play in supporting homeless people, each of whom has a unique personal history, their own story and experiences, which have culminated in becoming homeless and needing support.

While housing supply and accommodation are obviously major elements of the Government’s action plan, accommodation alone will not address some of the more complex needs related to homelessness like addiction and mental health issues.

As part of the Action Plan, the Department of Health has demonstrated its commitment to providing additional healthcare support services for homeless people through an additional €2 million in funding for the HSE for these services in 2016 and a commitment that this will treble to €6 million during 2017 and 2018.

This additional funding in 2016 will ensure that individuals and couples with high support needs can access the range of health services and supports they require while living in supported temporary accommodation or long-term accommodation.

Because of the strong inter-relationship between drug addiction and homelessness, the development of the National Drugs Strategy will also contribute to the goals of the Action Plan. It will include specific actions to address the rehabilitation needs of homeless people with addiction problems.

In 2017, the €6 million in additional funding will continue to support the voluntary and community sector in providing homeless services.

This will include supporting those availing of the “Housing First” scheme as this scheme grows and expands, and expanding the in-reach GP and nursing services in supported temporary accommodation where visiting health professionals visit to treat and care for homeless people.

There will also be a focus on the provision of longer term accommodation for homeless people with chronic and enduring health needs.

The Department of Health is developing Community Mental Health Teams, including additional Mental Health Nurses and counselling services to support homeless people and those at risk of homelessness will also be a priority.

Funding has also been committed for an intermediate healthcare step-down facility and the development of an addiction treatment unit by Dublin Simon at Usher’s Island in Dublin 8.

In 2016 the HSE will spend just over €30m to improve the health and quality of life of homeless people with approximately 90% of this funding going to the community and voluntary sector.

Prevention

We must ensure that as many people as possible are assisted to avoid them falling into homelessness.

Over 9,000 Rent Supplement tenancies have been protected since 2014 because of case-by-case rent supplement increases from the Department of Social Protection. Also, 2,500 existing HAP tenancies have received increased payments. That’s about 11,500 tenancies protected.

An awareness and information campaign is being put in place to raise awareness for tenants about their rights and the services available to them.

The DRHE are putting in a place a One-Stop Shop assessment centre for families presenting as homeless. This will have multi-agency participation including housing authorities, Tenancy Protection Services, Tusla, Family Mediation Services, Social Protection and NGOs. The intention is every effort will be made to keep families in their homes if they present as homeless or at risk of homelessness. This will be ready by the end of the year.

Addressing mortgage arrears is critical to support people to remain in their homes. The Plan provides that people in arrears will have access to independent legal and financial advice.

The Department of Finance and the Central Bank will ensure that the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears provides a strong framework for borrowers who are struggling.

My Department is exploring how to improve the Mortgage-to-Rent Scheme to facilitate more households, including long-term leasing arrangements.

It is the co-ordinated delivery of housing, health and social care supports that is the key to resolving homelessness for rough sleepers and the long term users of emergency accommodation. The 21 actions in Pillar 1 of Rebuilding Ireland reflect this multi-faceted approach.

A whole of Government commitment to addressing homelessness is now in train. I believe it will have a measurable and sustained impact on reducing the numbers of people sleeping rough. It will also mean that more homeless people than ever before will have a permanent home with appropriate wraparound health supports, after years spent in and out of emergency hostels and shelters.

ENDS

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