Thursday, 6 April 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in view of the fact that levels of homelessness have increased by 27% in the past 12 months, and that February homeless figures show that increases in individual family and child homelessness have reached historic highs, the way in which he intends to meet his target date of July 2017 to ensure that no families will be living in hotels and bed and breakfasts. [17285/17]
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Minister for their flexibility. Despite our best efforts at the water committee, the committee has just voted not to take a decision until next week. This is why I was delayed.
The Minister knows what the issue is and I am looking for very specific answers to the question. How many of the 1,239 families in the most recent homeless figure statistics does the Minister hope to have out of hotels and housed by the end of the quarter, as per the Rebuilding Ireland commitment? Where does he expect these families to go? Is it to local authority tenancies or rapid builds? Will he give a very clear commitment that none of the 700 or 800 families he will move out of hotels will be moved into any other type of emergency accommodation but will get secure long-term tenancies?
We have a commitment that by 1 July we will no longer be using hotels for emergency accommodation for families. This is an ambitious target but I think we will meet it, and we will do this through a series of solutions. Obviously the preference is to put as many families as we can into social housing. Some of them will be in HAP tenancies, some of them will be in homeless HAP tenancies, some of them will be in the rapid build social housing, which will be completed before this date, and many of them will be in more conventional social housing that comes onstream.
The Deputy's colleague, Deputy Ellis, came to the opening of the new family transition hub in Drumcondra and I think he was pretty impressed by it. It is being run by Respond! Housing Association. There will be a number of similar projects, in the broader Dublin area in particular. We are also looking at Cork, Limerick and Galway as to whether we may need transition centres for families, where there are specific supports designed for homeless families who need help on a temporary basis while we find them a permanent housing solution.
I do not want to do it here today, but when it is appropriate to do so I can provide the Deputy with the details of the various projects we will use in Dublin. My preference is to be able to transition people from hotels, particularly people who have been there for some time, that we prioritise them for HAP and social housing, and that we look to use the family transition homes for other families who may, for whatever reason, come into homelessness.
To put this into context, what we are speaking about is a specially designed facility on which we are spending millions of euro, which will have facilities such as homework clubs, proper dining facilities that are family oriented, supports, counselling, transportation to schools and all of the things that can make family life as normal as we can make it while the State finds long-term housing solutions for the families concerned. I am confident the combination of all of these approaches will deliver the target date we have set, which I recognise is only a few months away. All of the chief executives, particularly in the Dublin local authorities, are under some pressure to deliver for us. I hope they will deliver on what they have promised.
It is all very interesting, but none of it answered any of the questions I asked so I will go through them again. What we all want to hear is not the aspiration because we support that. What we want to know is specific information, as follows. How many of the 1,239 families recorded in emergency accommodation are in hotels, and of those in hotels how many does the Minister expect to have housed by his target date? Will the Minister give a commitment here today that none of these families will be moved from hotels into other forms of emergency accommodation, even if that other form of accommodation is better than hotels? We are looking for a clear guarantee these families will be moved into tenancies of the type described by the Minister. Will the Minister also give a commitment that as he is developing these family hubs no attempt will be made, for example, to take a hotel and reclassify it as a family hub?
The facility the Minister talked about in north County Dublin, being run by Respond! Housing Association, is a good quality facility. I want to hear the Minister say specifically that there will be no attempt to reclassify hotels as anything other than that. Are there timelines in his discussions with managers, particularly for Dublin local authorities? How many families does the Minister hope to have out of hotel accommodation this month, next month and the month after? We support this recommendation but the worry many of us have is that it is not going to be met. We would like to get more information as to how the Minister plans to meet it over the period from now until June.
I understand that there are about 850 families in hotel accommodation today. I stand to be corrected on that, but it is not a million miles away from the exact figure. It might be slightly higher or slightly lower. The intention is to ensure that as many of those families as possible are in long-term housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies or in social housing. I will not give absolutes because different families need different things. The whole point is that when a family or an individual is made homeless, the State looks after that person or people for a temporary period, as it should be, until we can find suitable accommodation which is supported appropriately for them. That could be Housing First, families in hotels who should not be there, or individuals who need support for mental health concerns, addiction or whatever it is. We have put significant increased resources into improving emergency facilities.
All the talk on homelessness is focused primarily on emergency facilities, numbers and so on as opposed to ensuring that we get families and individuals into appropriate medium and long-term housing. That is what we will try to do with the 750 and the others who will unfortunately be coming into homelessness between now and the middle of the year. There will be an element of these transition hubs being part of the solution as well as social housing, homeless HAP and HAP. The combination of all of those can deliver much better results for families and support for them than we have today.
The Deputies all have to tailor their responses to fit within the two minutes, one minute or whatever it may be. There will be people here at the end who will lose out. I am calling on everybody to do that, Minister and all. I call Deputy Ó Broin.
I thank the Minister for the figure of 850 in accommodation. It is clear that he is not willing to give a commitment that those families will be moved into permanent tenancies. If I understand him correctly, he is saying that they will only be moved into other emergency accommodation if that is what is in their best interests. If somebody does not need supported temporary accommodation and just needs a home, will the Minister give a commitment that those people, at least, will not be put into other emergency accommodation? Will he also give a clear commitment that he is not currently looking at properties that are hotels, whether they are currently tenanted or not, to lease out and redesignate as family hubs? That would simply be leaving people in hotels and classifying them as something else. While the Minister is not going to get time in his answer here today, can he e-mail members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and give us some indication of what the month-by-month targets are going to be between now and June, to demonstrate convincingly that he is going to meet this target?
We have given a very ambitious commitment and target here that I intend to meet. The Deputy is trying to find absolutes here, so that, as usual, he can create negative headlines out of something that is predominantly a very good ambition to try to solve problems for families.
I am not going to give the Deputy absolutes. There are always exceptions when it comes to the complexity of homelessness. We are trying to get families out of unsuitable, expensive hotel accommodation into much more suitable temporary accommodation if that is what is needed in the short term. In the long term, we are trying to get them tenancies either through HAP or in social housing. I will happily talk to the Deputy in some detail about the individual projects as they emerge, but I am not going to start giving him absolutes about all 150 families, because I do not think I can stand over that fully. Different families need different solutions. Our job is to work with them all with generosity and compassion.