Thursday, 19 January 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Homeless Persons Data
2. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the reason the November homelessness report published on 30 December 2016 does not include all those persons in State-funded emergency accommodation; if he will ensure that the figures will in future include those persons in domestic violence emergency accommodation funded by Tusla and those in the Department of Social Protection new communities unit-funded emergency accommodation and that the reports will be published earlier each month and on a Dáil sitting day to allow for adequate scrutiny; and if he will commit to further implementing the seven-point plan agreed with Home Sweet Home in January 2017 to tackle homelessness. [2286/17]
The figures the Minister's Department produces every month on homelessness are not accurate. They do not include adults and children in Tusla-funded domestic violence shelters or step-down accommodation. They do not include non-Irish nationals in emergency accommodation funded by the new communities unit. Crucially, they do not include those families trapped in direct provision having got their stamp 4 status but who are unable to secure alternative accommodation.
Tusla and the Department of Social Protection cannot currently give Members numbers for those first two categories but we know there are 400 families in direct provision who should not be there but who are essentially using direct provision as emergency accommodation. I have asked about this previously in a parliamentary question. The substance of my question today concerns whether the Minister and his Department will take a lead role in collating all the relevant data so the monthly records the Department publishes will give us an accurate picture of the number of families in all State-funded emergency accommodation.
It is important to distinguish between numbers in emergency accommodation and support accommodation and the numbers who are officially homeless. Sometimes the numbers are not the same. Sometimes people need to be in temporary care, perhaps because of domestic violence or mental health issues. It is not necessarily the case that the number in State care is the same as the number of people who have declared themselves homeless. Sometimes it is, however.
The official homelessness data reports, as published by the Department every month, are provided by housing authorities and produced using the pathway accommodation and support system, PASS, a single integrated national data information system on State-funded emergency accommodation arrangements overseen by housing authorities. The reports do not capture details of individuals utilising State-funded emergency accommodation arrangements which are not overseen by housing authorities, such as clients of domestic violence refuges or the new communities unit. This has always been very clear. The compilation, management and publication of data in regard to those clients are a matter for Tusla. The Deputy has not managed to obtain the data he has asked for in that regard.
For my part, I am satisfied with the quality, timeliness and format of the PASS reporting procedure. The system was put in place only a few years ago. It is not too long ago since we got homelessness figures only once per year. We now have them once per month. When they were being put together, we looked for figures from the various areas to which the Deputy is referring. It was either deemed inappropriate in terms of homelessness numbers or the figures were not readily available.
I take the point the Deputy is making but it is important when assessing numbers and trends to ascertain whether things are moving in the right direction to be consistent in how one calculates data. That is why I do not believe it is a good idea to switch from the PASS, which is by and large working. If there are other issues we need to address and if there are homeless people in other accommodation, we need to determine how best to deal with it. Introducing a new form of calculation is not necessarily the best course of action.
On the second part of the Deputy's question, on the Home Sweet Home campaign, I would like the opportunity to address it when I next get to contribute.
That is a very disappointing response. The Minister is essentially admitting these figures are not accurate but he is not willing to change their method of collation. None of the three categories of people I talked about pertains to people in care. If a family is put out of its home as a result of domestic violence, it is put into a domestic violence emergency accommodation shelter. That is emergency accommodation for the homeless. If a family or individuals are put into emergency accommodation or bed-and-breakfast accommodation funded through the new communities unit, they are put into emergency accommodation.
The 400 families in direct provision that have stamp 4 status are not in care.
I am not saying that the figures would make a difference - there is no reason that the Minister could not have his Department's figures alongside those from Tusla and so on - but we do not have an adequate picture of the number of adults and children who are homeless. How can the Minister then develop a strategy for combating the long-term housing needs of these categories, which is the primary responsibility of his Department, without including them? The figures that the Minister has provided to the House are substantially better than those of some years ago. The fact that we get them monthly and in this form is good, but these three categories of family are homeless. Unless they are mentioned in the overall figures, we will not have an adequate picture and our response will not be adequate.
My responsibilities are towards the areas that I control. I will speak to the other Ministers involved. I have a long briefing note. When these data were being put together initially, there were discussions around adding figures, particularly those from domestic violence refuges. It was not possible to do that at the time.
Regarding the new community units, a series of other considerations need to be factored in that are not necessarily covered by citing simple numbers. Some people may be in different types of circumstance and with different entitlements depending on, for example, whether they are here to stay. In some ways, this could inaccurately skew the figures. My key issue is the need for accuracy and a consistent method of calculation so that we can determine whether trends are improving.
I would like the opportunity to clarify a number of matters regarding the Home Sweet Home campaign. The Deputy referred-----
The figures are not accurate. That is the problem. I will raise a further point, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on Home Sweet Home. For the second month in a row, a number of other Deputies and I were disappointed by the timing of the release of the figures. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that, when the Minister releases figures on 30 December without any press release on the website or, as far as I know from speaking with some members of the media, issued to the press, it is an attempt to bury bad news. I am not accusing the Minister of that, but it is the impression given. During the week in question, two significant news stories were issued by the Department's press office that promoted the Department's good work. I had no difficulty with that, but we must ensure that data are released at a time when Deputies have an opportunity to scrutinise them and the media or the general public is not away on holidays just before New Year's Eve. To ensure that people do not get the impression that the Minister is trying to bury bad news, I am asking for a commitment that he will publish the figures earlier and preferably on Dáil sitting days or days on which we have the opportunity to scrutinise them adequately.
Regarding the numbers, various comments have been made, including by the Deputy, that are not accurate. The Dublin figures return to us separately from the rest of the country. We wait until we have the national figure before we publish anything. If I got figures on a Friday and waited until Tuesday to publish them because Tuesday was a Dáil sitting day, I would still be accused of delaying.
There was no attempt to hide anything and if there had been, I would probably have waited until 1 or 2 January when there would have been no focus on the figures at all. Instead, we published them before then.
Normally, we get the figures towards the end of the third week or so of the month after the one for which we have data. Most of the time, we try to get the figures out as soon as we can, but I must ensure that I can stand over them and that they are verified and so on.
Regarding the Deputy's reference to a seven-point plan that was agreed with the Home Sweet Home campaign, I will put what actually happened on the record. We had a long conversation about a number of those points and there was agreement on them, but it is important to point out that I did not see that seven-point plan press release in its final draft, never mind approve it, before it was announced and released. It was a reflection of the approximately seven-hour conversation on a range of issues that we had held on the previous Friday. At the end of that conversation, an attempt was made to have an agreed statement, but it was not agreed. The following Wednesday or Thursday, an announcement was made as if I had made an agreement in writing with the Home Sweet Home campaign. That simply was not true.
What is true is that much of what was in the statement was agreed at our meeting. Unfortunately, people were claiming credit for certain things. I am not really interested in that. Rather, I am interested in the accuracy of the change that is happening in terms of supporting homeless people. It is true to say that we will have an extra 100 emergency beds in Dublin in the coming weeks, probably through two or three new hostels. It is true to say that we will look after the short and long-term needs of people who are accommodated outside Apollo House. It is true to say that we will improve community services for homeless people. It is true to say that, by the middle of this year, we will not allow families to be accommodated in commercial hotels. I understand that there will be a monthly meeting, if Home Sweet Home wants one, with Dublin City Council.
My point is that we should not try to turn this into a political campaign around who managed to get concessions and who did not. The truth is that most of those commitments had already been made. I gave a reassurance to Home Sweet Home that they would be implemented. That is the only point that I would like to make in terms of accuracy, as no written agreement was signed off on by both sides.
I am trying to be fair to everyone. The Minister exceeded his time by two and a half minutes. There may be opportunities later, so I will ask the Minister and Deputies to be conscious of the time factor and that others are waiting.