Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
A number of weeks ago, I engaged with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on a number of issues with regard to private emergency accommodation, which is a rapidly increasing proportion of the accommodation provided and, it seems, a very profitable one. The Minister persistently referenced the role of local authorities and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive in tackling our homelessness crisis but I believe the Government has a core duty in this area, of course in terms of policy and funding but also in ensuring legislation is adhered to and proper systems and governance structures are in place, particularly when it comes to private emergency accommodation and providing addiction and healthcare services to those who need them.
The HSE and the Department of Health have a particular role to play in terms of how they interact with private emergency accommodation in their role on the joint homelessness consultative forum. If I may focus on the links between addiction, mental health support and homelessness, all three are intrinsically intertwined and people can experience one, two or all three of them at periodically different points over their lifetime. The causes and consequences of homelessness are multifaceted and this should be recognised and addressed within the system of homeless services that we as a State provide, whether through private or public structures.
We need to see national guidance on the private provision of services. Specialist mental health professionals should be a formative part of the homeless services we provide. Specialist teams should engage in active outreach for every person experiencing homelessness, providing aftercare planning and assisting people into a home. My fear is that this is not happening where the service is privatised. For example, a small success over the past year has been a lowering of the barriers for those seeking to get on methadone, which is itself now recognised as an addiction issue. This is more difficult when the take-up of addiction programmes requires timely and direct access to information, staff and supports that might not be available in private providers. There is a lack of clarity about the quality, regularity, availability and efficacy of support services in private accommodation. What oversight does the Department of Health undertake to ensure that private providers in the sector are staffed with people who are fully Garda vetted and suitably qualified? We need to ensure that adequate physical, mental and emotional health supports are available within these private providers.
What oversight does the Department of Health have on the standard of accommodation being funded through the taxpayer? What is the frequency of unannounced inspections carried out by HIQA? Does HIQA carry out inspections? To date, what information has the Department collected on private emergency accommodation? Is the Department fully compliant with current procurement and tendering practices in the contracting of privatised emergency accommodation? We have increased spending in this area since 2016 by a huge percentage and have increased capacity by only 237 people. What are we seeing for this rise in cost?