Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Emergency Accommodation Provision
68. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the number of persons in emergency accommodation in Fingal; the steps being taken to tackle the issue of homelessness in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46902/18]
My question relates to my constituency, Dublin Fingal. I ask for an update on what is being done to tackle homelessness. I would be grateful if the Minister could address the issue of how people are being accommodated. The number of homeless people in Fingal is rising and they are not being accommodated in the area.
My Department's role in respect of homelessness involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the work of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at local level. Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons rests with individual housing authorities.
In the Dublin region, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive provides a shared service on behalf of the four authorities in the Dublin region, including on behalf of Fingal County Council. The funding provided to the Dublin region for homeless services has increased significantly in recent years, from €68.6 million in 2016 to €83.6 million in 2017. The latter amount is likely to be exceeded this year.
While published monthly reports identify the number of persons utilising State-funded emergency accommodation at regional and county level, details on persons accessing services in a specific local authority area are not available in my Department. The monthly report for September showed that there were 3,940 adults and 2,869 associated dependants accessing homeless services across the Dublin region. In 2018, Fingal alone has a target to support over 1,630 households through build, acquisition and leasing programmes and through the HAP and rental accommodation schemes.
Homelessness is most acute in the Dublin region. In September, I wrote to the chief executives of the four Dublin local authorities about additional actions that are required, including increased levels of emergency accommodation for both singles and families and the greater prevention work that is needed. I met subsequently each of the chief executives, including the chief executive of Fingal County Council, and my Department is continuing to engage with the Dublin local authorities to ensure every effort continues to be made across all the relevant agencies to address homelessness in Dublin. In that context, while considerable progress was made earlier this year in addressing rough sleeping, with the numbers recorded in Dublin falling significantly to 110, a further 200 additional emergency beds are being provided by the end of the year to ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the system to meet any needs arising.
The Minister stated earlier that this issue cannot be solved overnight. We have had eight years of Fine Gael-led Governments and nobody is suggesting that the issue could be resolved overnight. Significant numbers of people are entering homelessness in Fingal and ending up in emergency accommodation. In my own experience, which is why I tabled this question, there has been a spike in women presenting as homeless due to domestic violence. I say this because they are appearing and presenting at the clinics that I hold and in my office. They are falling through the cracks. They are not being counted as part of the homeless figures but they have no homes. They have no stable accommodation in which to live with their children. If that does not constitute homelessness, I do not know what does. Some are in emergency accommodation. They have been given HAP but cannot find places to live. They are often accommodated far from their home places, which presents a particular difficult for their children. The travel distance that they have to undertake causes a problem with the attendance of their kids at school. Their right to education is being undermined by the lack of housing. What supports are in place at local authority level to help people who have HAP but cannot find somewhere to live? What, if anything, is being done to make sure that people who are from Fingal are accommodated in Fingal?
We have a five to six-year plan in place in Rebuilding Ireland to dramatically transform our housing sector and rebuild it in a way in which it cannot break as it did before. If we look for a quick fix, we will get a quick break and we do not want that. We want to make sure that when we provide supports for people to get housing that they will not lose it in the future and that as we build thousands of extra homes, that will not stop if there is a future shock in the economy. The Deputy talks about us being in government for eight years but house prices were still falling in 2012. We emerged from the bailout in 2014 and people thought we would need to avail of a second. Since then, we have focused on some of the low-hanging fruit such as council vacancies and voids. We have brought thousands of these back into use and that has been very important. We have to give every care that we can. Fingal and the other Dublin local authorities have had to do and are doing a lot of work to make sure that families and individuals who find themselves in this crisis get the supports that they need.
Over the past three months, we have seen the number of presentations in Dublin decrease and we saw 44 families present in Fingal in September. Some 27 families were prevented from entering emergency accommodation because of the work the local authority did. Some 17 families unfortunately entered emergency accommodation but 11 families exited it. That speaks to the amount of work that the local authority in Fingal is doing. The net increase in September was six families. We want no increase but for the numbers to go down continually. Until more houses are built, we will have to continue to put in place supports such as HAP. The additional supports for someone in receipt of HAP are the HAP uplift of 20% if necessary or the homeless HAP uplift of 50% if necessary. We also have placefinders in place to help people source accommodation and those are doing one of two things. They go into hotels to help people out of hotels or when people present, they go out with them to prevent them from having to enter emergency accommodation in the first instance. Fingal needs extra resources and I have told the council it can have those extra resources. The rent and deposit will be covered too to make sure there are no unnecessary delays in getting people into secure, safe accommodation.
The Minister calls this a crisis in their lives. It is a crisis created by Government policy and he cannot put himself at a remove from the actions of his Government and their results. There is council land in areas such as Donabate, Castleland and Hacketstown. We hear that the council wants to allocate some 60% of this for the private market. That cannot be allowed to happen. House prices are spiralling out of control. They are getting further away from the people who need them. What supports are in place to ensure that people who have HAP get somewhere to live? How is that being deployed for people in Fingal? Is any effort being made to ensure that the people who live in Fingal will be accommodated in Fingal and will the Minister comment on the impact this has on the lives of children who are missing school because their mother, in many instances - a mother presented to me - is fleeing from domestic violence? Why are these people not counted in the Minister's figures? They are homeless with no stable accommodation and their lives are in crisis.
I am at the coalface of this crisis because I am Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. I am responsible for working with local authorities, our partners in the NGO sector and all stakeholders to put in place appropriate supports and solutions for those who need them. This crisis is complex. It stems from a number of issues. The supply crisis stems from the fact that our housing sector exploded in the late 2000s and would have brought down the economy too. The crisis that people are experiencing in their lives is because in some instances there are not enough homes and in some instances landlords, which the Deputy's party continues to attack, are leaving the market. That leads to a notice of termination and housing insecurity for them. There are other crises from family breakdowns. Some families present because of a breakdown in family relations.
This is a complex issue. That is why we work with partner organisations such as the Peter McVerry Trust, Simon Communities Ireland, St. Vincent de Paul and Focus, because they are the experts. We provide funding to them from the taxpayer and work with them, with the local authorities, to put in place relevant supports. I outlined the relevant HAP supports, including the HAP placefinder, payment of the deposit, payment of the rent and HAP uplift. We have a responsibility as a Government to provide housing for everyone and every local authority is responsible for its own placements, including who it is placing into the stock of social housing that is in increasing in its own local authority area. I have met too many children in family hubs and coming out of hotels and I have met their parents and spoken with them about the difficulties we are experiencing. We know a family in a family hub will spend less time there than in a hotel. On average, it is less than six months before we get them into a secure, safe and sustainable home. That is what our policies try to achieve.