Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Homeless Persons Data
70. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the number of beds available for rough sleepers in Dublin; his plans to deal with the challenges and risks posed to rough sleepers during adverse weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46926/18]
We are at the time of year when, as the weather changes, the challenges and risks for rough sleepers increase significantly. My question to the Minister this morning specifically asks how many beds are available in the Dublin area for rough sleepers, how many people are deemed to require this accommodation or are classed as rough sleepers and what plans are in place for severe weather conditions during the winter?
As I stated previously, supporting individual and families experiencing homelessness is an absolute priority for this Government, particularly in the case of those who, without such supports, may end up sleeping rough. Budget 2019 reflects this commitment by allocating an additional €30 million for the provision of homelessness services in 2019. That will increase the total budget available to local authorities to €146 million, which is a 26% increase on the provision for 2018. Budget 2019 also provides for an additional €60 million in capital funding for the provision of emergency accommodation, including further emergency facilities for single adults and couples.
Providing additional accommodation for rough sleepers is essential. In this regard, I recently wrote to the chief executives of the four Dublin local authorities requesting the delivery of additional emergency accommodation across the Dublin region. A plan submitted to me subsequently by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive will deliver over 200 new permanent beds across the city before the end of the year. That will add to the existing emergency bed capacity of some 2,200 beds. Furthermore, as we move into winter, I have also requested all local authorities, including in Dublin, to ensure that cold weather arrangements are in place for rough sleepers, including additional temporary emergency beds, as necessary.
Many individuals experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping as a result also require other supports to exit homelessness into an independent tenancy. The implementation plan for Housing First, published in September, is designed to provide this response, by delivering permanent housing solutions for rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation. The plan contains targets for each local authority, with an overall national target of 660 tenancies to be delivered by 2021. Crucially, implementation will be driven by a new dedicated national director of Housing First who was appointed earlier this year.
The Minister quoted a lot of figures but I am not sure if he outlined what I specifically sought. I will try to keep it simple. I specifically asked him about the number of beds that are available for rough sleepers in the Dublin area. I then asked him what is the current number of people deemed to be rough sleepers. The reason is that I am trying to ensure there is adequate capacity. From time to time we have, unfortunately, seen rough sleepers die on the streets. While bad weather may be a contributory factor in some cases, neglect has always been a cause. I am not abdicating our responsibility. We all have a role to play to ensure that does not happen. From the point of view of clarity, in order to understand the situation, we need the Minister to provide those figures. What is the number of beds available in the Dublin area for rough sleepers and what is the number of people who are categorised as sleeping rough and are they a match? Anecdotal evidence from this summer, and even today walking through town, is that we are beginning to see more people who are rough sleepers. I am concerned that if we are seeing them on such a scale that we do not have the required number of beds. I am very concerned about what that will mean in the winter months.
The cold weather initiative has been implemented in some local authorities because we have already had spells of cold weather.
The initiative means more outreach teams go out and we keep facilities open for longer.
The count of people sleeping rough, which is separate from the count of people in emergency accommodation, happens twice a year. The most recent count was done in March of this year and found that an average of 110 people were sleeping rough on a nightly basis, down 40% on the previous count conducted in November 2017. All of the additional beds, supports and work that we put in place last year helped to get people off the streets. People who are sleeping rough are in complex situations and it is not just a question of providing shelter and accommodation for them. They need wraparound supports and services as well and that is why the Housing First plan is so important.
I assure the Deputy that there will be enough beds in place before the end of the year. While the official numbers tell us that 110 people are sleeping rough, that count is months old and more people may be sleeping rough on our streets now. Between now and the end of the year, therefore, 248 new emergency beds will be delivered. Some 20 have been delivered and a further 200 are in the pipeline and will be delivered in the next three to four weeks. In addition, 65 new beds were put in place but we do not count them as new because they are replacing 65 beds that were lost on St. Stephen's Green. In January, another 40 beds will come on stream. Between 200 and 300 beds will come on line while the most recent rough sleeper count told us that there were 110 people on our streets. Anecdotal evidence from our outreach teams suggests that there are still people sleeping rough and that some new people have presented. We do not know if the number is less than 110, given the new emergency beds that have come into the system over the course of the year. When we do the next rough sleeper count, we will know the number involved. That count will happen in the very near future but no matter what the number, we are putting in place at least double the number of beds that will be required to make sure that no one needs to sleep rough, particularly during the cold weather period.
I thank the Minister for his response. For those of us who live in Dublin and who walk around the city, particularly in the mornings, the anecdotal evidence is that more and more people are sleeping rough. That said, I agree with the Minister that anecdotal evidence is not enough.
Seven or eight months ago, there was a spell of particularly bad weather, including Storm Emma and so forth, and emergency initiatives were put in place. Despite all the additional emergency accommodation in the system, rough sleepers, who were out in challenging and difficult conditions, had to be accommodated in a sports hall on Marrowbone Lane. Four or five marquees were erected and more than 100 people turned up who had never been included in the equation. How do we determine the need that exists because as accommodation and supports are provided, more people are turning up to avail of them? I am concerned that the scale of the problem is greater than we realise, with rough sleepers who are outside the immediate catchment area, along the canals and so forth, not being included in the official figures. When the weather turned bad last winter, 100 additional people turned up who had not been anticipated and had to be accommodated in a sports hall. That is my underlying concern.
I understand and share the Deputy's concern. As the Minister responsible, I visited said sports hall during Storm Emma. The Peter McVerry Trust did significant work to get that facility in place. What was needed, primarily, was safe and warm shelter for people but they were also provided with medical attention and food. The Deputy is correct that these people would not traditionally have been sleeping rough. They were squatting or were in other forms of accommodation. The most important issue was to get them to safety.
As I said earlier, the rough sleeper count from March of this year showed 110 people but we will put in place approximately 250 new emergency beds before the end of the year, with another 40 to come on stream in January. In addition, we are setting up a permanent, standing emergency solution to deal with major storm events and other natural disasters or God forbid, more malicious incidents requiring the immediate provision of emergency accommodation. Half those beds will be in place before the end of November, with the other half to come on stream later. This is in addition to the 250 beds I have mentioned. It is a further contingency for incidents like Storm Emma, for people of whom we are not aware or should something else happen. Each time these events happen, we learn from them and money is available to put in place the additional supports needed.