Thursday, 18 April 2019
Youth Homelessness: Statements
I thank Members for the opportunity to speak again about this important issue.
Homelessness is one of the most urgent issues facing the Government and it is one we are committed to resolving. The situation of children in emergency accommodation is particularly disturbing. This morning, we have a report by the Ombudsman for Children's office on family hubs. This report gives a voice to very young children living in family hubs, which is very valuable. I will take the particular recommendations on board and bring the report to the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone.
Family hubs are a more appropriate first response than hotels. However, they must be run to the highest possible standards and they must remain a temporary response for families living in them. My Department is already moving on some of the priorities identified in the report. Notably, we recently issued instructions to local authorities nationally on the extension of the national quality standards framework for homeless services. The framework, which has been fully implemented in the Dublin region, has been designed to ensure that the services we provide to individuals and families experiencing homelessness are well organised, co-ordinated and focused on moving people out of homelessness into sustainable housing solutions as quickly as possible. The framework recognises the rights of children and provides that children are consulted regarding their needs. I will be in contact with the local authorities and our service providers that are operating family hubs, which includes Crosscare, Focus Ireland, the Good Shepherd, the Peter McVerry Trust, Respond, the Salvation Army and Sophia Housing to ask them for their response to this important report. Those responses will guide the further measures that must be taken.
My role, as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, is to fix our broken system but it is also to ensure there are sufficient homes available for all of those who need them. While we are committed to ensuring that those families experiencing homelessness are provided with the best possible emergency accommodation as they are supported to identify and secure an independent home, we recognise that there is always more work to do in this most important area. No one wants any children to be in emergency accommodation and no one wants any child to be in such a precarious position.
The approach to supporting families and children experiencing homelessness involves a wide-ranging approach in which a number of Departments and agencies are responsible, in particular, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills.
In September 2017, I established the homelessness inter-agency group to ensure that services to individuals, families and their children were provided in a coherent and co-ordinated manner and, importantly, in a caring and compassionate manner. The number of Departments and agencies with key roles in the provision of supports and services to children experiencing homelessness demonstrates both the complexity of the issue but also the determined commitment from all of Government to address this issue.
I will briefly outline some of those supports. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is responsible for policy development and implementation with regard to issues that affect children, in particular, childhood care and education, child welfare and protection. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is responsible for supporting and promoting the development, welfare and protection of children and the effective functioning of families and it delivers a range of services to support families and children experiencing homelessness. Its educational welfare service works with schools to put supports in place to assist families experiencing homelessness. That includes support through transport, books and uniforms. It also supports families in their interactions with their schools.
The educational welfare service also examines the impact of homelessness in the context of school attendance and participation as well as retention. Guidance has been developed for families to support them also in this area. Tusla works closely with existing local structures such as the children and young persons services committees and community based services such as the family resource centres, FRCs, to ensure that adequate supports are available to families in homelessness to enable children and young people to continue to attend, fully participate as well as progress in school.
A range of resources from the Department of Education and Skills are also available to support schools in dealing with identified additional educational needs, including needs which may arise for children experiencing homelessness. This includes the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. Psychologists in that service can provide advice and guidance to principles and teachers regarding individual students' needs and in the development of whole-school approaches to support inclusion, participation and integration. In addition, the psychologists support schools to implement early intervention and prevention programmes.
Additional support is provided to the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, school support programme to schools identified as having the highest concentrations of pupils from disadvantaged communities. Schools use those additional resources to meet the identified needs of their pupils, including the additional needs that may arise for pupils experiencing homelessness. Schools designated as DEIS can also avail of a home school community liaison and school completion support provided by Tusla's educational welfare service to assist with school attendance, retention and progression, which can be areas of particular challenge to those children who are experiencing homelessness living in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation or in family hubs.
With Healthy Ireland we are enabling the running of a successful health and nutrition pilot aimed at families and children in emergency accommodation. One group recognised as being particularly vulnerable to homelessness are those young people leaving State care. Tusla co-ordinates the overall service response in this area. These individuals require additional supports to ensure a smooth transition from State care and that they are not put at risk of homelessness.
Funding is in place under my Department's capital assistance scheme which enables approved housing bodies, AHBs, to acquire residential units to accommodate young people exiting State care. Work is ongoing between Tusla, my Department and the local authorities to ensure the acquisition of properties for approved housing bodies for the accommodation of care leavers are progressed as quickly as possible.
A Dublin area co-ordination forum for AHBs and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, has been established by Tusla as well as a national co-ordinating forum for AHBs to ensure coverage in all areas and efficient implementation of the scheme, with an emphasis on forward planning to anticipate and plan for demands in 2019 and 2020.
Approximately 40 properties have thus far been or are in the process of being purchased under this scheme.
My Department's focus is on ensuring that we deliver housing solutions for families and children experiencing homelessness. We are making some progress, with over 5,000 adults exiting homelessness into tenancies in 2018. To date, Rebuilding Ireland has increased the active social housing stock by over 21,000 homes, with 8,420 of these delivered in 2018 alone. A further 10,000 social homes will be delivered before the end of this year.
As we increase the supply of social housing, we face an unacceptable number of families accessing emergency accommodation and an unacceptable situation of families in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. The Government is committed to supporting these families to identify and secure their own homes. However, until homes can be secured, we must provide the best supports possible in emergency accommodation. In the budget for this year, we increased the funding provided to local authorities for homeless services to €146 million, an increase of over 25% on the 2018 allocation. This funding will ensure that local authorities can provide the best possible supports to those individuals and families experiencing homelessness until they can be assisted to secure a more sustainable housing solution that is best suited to their needs.
One of the key priorities for my Department is preventing the flow of families and children into homeless services. We know many of those families presenting have previously resided in private rented property. I am committed to strengthening and improving security of tenure for tenants through the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018, which was published in December and which is now making its way through the House.
Under the homeless HAP place finder service, all local authorities are being provided with the option to pay deposits and advance rental payments for any households in emergency accommodation in order to allow them to secure accommodation via the HAP scheme. Local authorities may, depending on demand, offer households in emergency accommodation the option to source accommodation themselves or with the assistance of the local place finder offices. Dedicated HAP place finder positions are also being funded by my Department, with 23 local authorities having place finder officers in place. To the end of last year, over 6,100 households have been supported through homeless HAP nationally, including almost 900 in the Dublin region.
My Department is also funding Threshold's tenancy protection service. This service provides advice and support to individuals, couples and families living in private rented accommodation who are experiencing tenancy problems. It has been instrumental in preventing homelessness in the first instance and supporting people to remain in their homes.
Where families require emergency accommodation, we are working to minimise the use of hotels and have been delivering family hubs to provide a more suitable form of accommodation. To date, 27 family hubs have opened nationally since 2017, offering 650 spaces of accommodation for families in the key urban areas where the issue of family homelessness is most pressing. Further family hubs are being developed this year. Family hubs have been shown to not only provide a more suitable environment for families experiencing homelessness, but also have been proven to allow families to exit emergency accommodation far more quickly than would be the case if they were staying in a hotel or bed and breakfast. While these facilities provide more security and stability for homeless families than is possible in hotel accommodation, it is important to note that these facilities are not intended to be seen as a housing solution. Our fundamental objective remains to provide homes for the families concerned. As supply becomes available, families will move into houses and apartments that will be provided under the various social housing supports. As soon as the family go into a hub, they are immediately met by a support team whose main aim is to exit them from homelessness into appropriate accommodation as swiftly as possible.
For those families in hotels and bed breakfast accommodation, the DRHE requires all private emergency operators to have a safeguard statement and staff who are Garda vetted and trained in child protection. The DRHE, supported by Tusla, has set up a mandatory one-day training course in child protection for private emergency accommodation, PEA, staff and the contact details of the dedicated liaison person must be on display in each PEA.
A national standards quality framework for the delivery of homeless services has been developed for my Department by the DRHE. The objective of this framework is to improve the quality of services provided to individuals, families and children who are accessing emergency accommodation. As I said, this is being rolled out on a pilot basis for all of Dublin and will now be rolled out nationally. It is very important that we have this framework in place to make sure we are delivering the best possible emergency accommodation to families in need, and that accommodation is delivered not just in an efficient way but with care and compassion, and with the necessary supports to exit families from emergency accommodation as swiftly as possible.
As already stated, the delivery of supports is being addressed on a multi-agency and multi-departmental basis. In June of last year, the chair of the homelessness inter-agency group submitted a report to me setting out a range of recommendations across a number of policy areas. The latter is in addition to the work that is already happening in regard to quality standards and frameworks. The Government endorses these recommendations in the report. The chair of the group will be submitting a further report to me in the coming weeks setting out the progress that has been made. Where progress has not been made or further actions are identified, I will be engaging with my Cabinet colleagues to ensure that we are delivering the most appropriate supports.
I know everyone will join me in acknowledging the exemplary work undertaken by all of those working with families, children and young people who find themselves needing to access emergency accommodation, whether that be an NGO, a local authority or officials of the various Government Departments involved. They all play an essential role in ensuring the required support and services are provided to those who are most vulnerable in this crisis. All of these individuals face a difficult job and they work tirelessly to provide supports to the individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness and who are our first concern.
Before I proceed, I wish to place on record the fact hat my family business in Glendalough has been used previously to house children in family homelessness.
During my previous contribution on child and family homelessness in our Republic, I concluded by pleading to the Government to immediately declare homelessness a national emergency. Our homelessness national emergency needs a massive response from Government that should include daily targets and reports. We must declare that the common good of our people dictates that the Government ensures a minimum standard of housing for all our people.
I wish I could state that there is a better reality to report but the facts remain the same. In February 2016, the homelessness report figures indicated that 1,881 children and 795 families were living in emergency accommodation. In February 2019, the there were 3,784 children and 1,707 families living in emergency accommodation. This is in the three years since the Government, which claims that it is on top of the situation and that Rebuilding Ireland is working, came to office. The Government spin machine is of the view that a 101% increase in child homelessness and an 87% increase in family homelessness are acceptable. What about the former Minister's pledge to end the use of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families by July 2017? Today, as 900 children are been accommodated in family hubs - another failed policy - there are still 1,903 living in hotels. There are now more children living in hotels than was the case when the then Minister made his pledge in 2017.
The lifelong damage being inflicted on children from their experience of homelessness will mirror the trauma of children and families across the globe. What it say about this crisis in child homelessness that we are putting tourists into homes in Dublin while Irish families are crammed into hotel rooms throughout our capital city? The report by the Ombudsman for Children, which gives witness to the lived experience of homelessness by children living in family hubs, should be read by every Minister and by every other Member of this House. The contents of the No Place Like Home report should be seared into the brain every policy influencer in Ireland. On a day when we are considering history’s place as a subject on the school curriculum, this report is a living historical record of the shameful failure of the Government's response to family homelessness. In it, Noah, aged ten, writes, “I hate everything”. Róisín, aged nine, when asked about what was good about the hubs, wrote, “Nothing.” The parents of three-year old Oisín and one-year old Niamh speak honestly about raising children in this environment:
We have two rooms, but every single night he comes in with us, whereas before he would just go off to bed. He has become very clingy to me. I’ve put a lot of work into him now... to help him manage his emotions... At night-time you have to try to keep them quiet, everything to do with parenting, it is so hard in this environment.
Children’s wisdom and sense of injustice is also recounted. Five-year old Darragh, who informed his parents that he was packing his clothes and leaving, stated simply about the lack of housing, "It is not fair." Rachel, aged ten, says, "Visiting arrangements are not fair." The shame and embarrassment felt by our homeless children is expressed by ten-year old Kim, "I don’t like to tell my friend that I live in a hotel, because they might make fun of me." Kim and her family should not feel shamed and embarrassed. Everyone in this Chamber should feel shamed and embarrassed.
Every Minister should feel ashamed and embarrassed. If Government policies are not working, they need to be changed or dumped immediately.
I have been vocal on the impact of short-terms letting platforms and in my first contribution to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government three years ago, I was the first Deputy to raise the impact that these platforms were having on the rental market in Dublin and to highlight that homes that could be used for families were being used for tourists. Three years ago, I warned about this and at the time I was accused of scaremongering and attacking short-term letting platforms by vested interests. It is important that all changes to this industry take into account that family and child homelessness cannot continue in this way.
As we approach the summer tourism season the capacity of hotels will increase and the availability of accommodation for families will decline. There are warnings from around the world about how cold governments can be about families that are homeless and looking for shelter. We cannot be here patting ourselves on the back for our international responsibilities and solidarity on issues such as Brexit, while thousands of Irish children are homeless. As the Easter break approaches, the time for Government soundbites is over. Ministers with solemn faces and press briefings to get over the local and European election cycle will not work either. This Government needs to deliver.
The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government has worked in a positive manner to assist and help regulation through this Dáil in the interest of the common good. The committee has carried out a comprehensive review of the impact of short-term lettings and issued a full report. Fianna Fáil has introduced a Bill regulating this sector. It is clear and not questioned that there are thousands of properties, excluding homeshare properties, available for letting on the short-term letting platforms. There are significantly more than are required to house the 1,707 families and 3,780 children who are in emergency accommodation. This requires a definition of what short-term letting is, which the Minister is working on in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 and by introducing amendments to the Planning and Development Act. I have spoken openly on this. What the Minister is doing is required but it will not regulate the short-term letting industry, and we need regulation. This requires the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to introduce the regulation. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, has clearly stated that he is the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and that he does not have responsibility for tourism.
The Minister reaches across this Chamber looking for support from Opposition parties which he receives with regard to significant regulation that will help to deal with the housing crisis. Where is the collective responsibility of Cabinet? It is simply not good enough for the Taoiseach, the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to blame a minority Government all the time. His own Cabinet cannot act in a collective manner. The Minister's colleague does not accept that there is a child homelessness crisis that needs a whole-of-Government response. Who is driving the bus and controlling Government policy? It definitely does not look like the Minister or the Taoiseach.
Fianna Fáil has tried repeatedly to urge this Government to act radically on child and family homelessness. We have given this Government every opportunity to give this crisis the attention it deserves. The lifelong damage being inflicted on Irish children from their experience of homelessness in Ireland will mirror the trauma of children and families around the world. Governments throughout the world pay far too much lipservice to caring about families experiencing homelessness, and not enough action to resolve it. This Government is currently part of the problem in tackling child and family homelessness. A national emergency should be declared now before Ireland joins an international list of shameful responses to those in need of shelter, help and a place to call home. I will conclude with the wisdom and grace of Irish children. Eight year old Hanna said, "I need a house", while nine year old, Róisín, said, "Get a house." The Minister must deliver more homes.
The number of young people experiencing homelessness has doubled in the past three years. That is before we get into the hidden homeless - those who have not presented as homeless to a local authority and who are staying on the couches of relatives or friends. We do not know how many young people are homeless but it is much higher than the number officially reported in February. I want to focus on those young people who leave State care, whether foster care or some type of residential care, and find themselves unable to secure accommodation. I have raised this with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. While I acknowledge that many of these issues fall under the remit of that Department, including aftercare supports which are supposed to ensure that care leavers are helped in their transition to independence, a much greater responsibility rests with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
A recent report from Empowering People in Care, EPIC, highlighted the difficulties faced by these young people. I found it very worrying that the report showed that 12% of those who have left the care system are homeless. Approximately 450 children leave care each year and this is challenging without stable accommodation. EPIC and other organisations are looking for more co-operation from the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs and Housing, Planning and Local Government to deliver solutions for these young people. Young people leaving care are at a higher risk of homeless than their peers, simply because they lack the stability in their lives that many others take for granted. This was recently highlighted in the figures from Focus Ireland, which showed that of 119 care leavers the organisation worked with in Dublin, 14 were homeless and 22 were at risk of homelessness. I acknowledge that the Minister said he secured 40 units but it is simply not enough. I hope that he will examine this issue in a cross-departmental way and ensure that young people leaving State care have the supports and certainty that they need.
Following Deputy Mitchell's contribution, I highlight that at least 910 young people are homeless and there are perhaps many more in overcrowded accommodation. With regard to the aftercare issue and children leaving care, as Deputy Mitchell said, 12% of young people leaving care are homeless, and one third are at risk of homelessness. The Child Care (Amendment) Act 2015 that Senator James Reilly authored had some valuable elements but there were also significant shortfalls. The Act provided for an entitlement to an aftercare plan, drafted while in care, but it did not provide any entitlement to the actual care. That is a significant difficulty. A plan is very well and good on paper, but if there are not resources and designated people to put that in place, then it is just a piece of paper.
In 2017, I drafted legislation, the aftercare entitlement Bill. I was unable to introduce it due to Standing Orders as it would incur a charge on the Exchequer but I sent it to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and I will send it to the Minister, Deputy Murphy, after this debate. It proposes designating a named person on behalf of Tusla to oversee the implementation of an aftercare plan and entitlement to supported accommodation for care leavers immediately after leaving the care system, implementing a system of review and engagement with the care leaver on a routine basis, and extending the age of entitlement to 27. That is supported by EPIC and the Irish Aftercare Network. I hope the Minister and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will consider it. Aftercare is vitally important. In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively small cohort but it is a cohort who are at much heightened risk of poverty and homelessness. They need greater support. Everybody should have an aftercare plan but there need to be supports.
I will address the report on family hubs.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight a case. We have to be honest about this and I recognise that family hubs are preferable to what was there beforehand, namely, bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels and so on. The difficulties with them if they become a long-term solution for people and if they become where people end up for extended periods of time are obvious from the Ombudsman's report, with children describing them as being like a prison and so on. It is extremely upsetting and when one deals with these families and talks to the parents, they are so upset at how embarrassed and traumatised the children sometimes are by all this.
I want to give the example of a constituent of mine, Stephanie McSweeney. She has been on Cork City Council's housing list for almost 11 years. She was made homeless a few weeks ago. She was in a family hub but as of today she has had to leave the family hub because I suppose the council is saying that somebody of higher need needs that room. She is now being sent to Kinsale almost 20 miles away. She does not drive, she works in the city and her children go to school in the city, so she will have to get the bus in and out from Kinsale every day. This is a family with two children. She has been failed by not being offered a house after nearly 11 years, she has been failed by the inability of this Government to put legislation in place to prevent people being evicted into homelessness and she has been failed because she is not being allowed to stay in the emergency accommodation that has been provided to her in that family hub. That is unacceptable, there are many families in similar situations and they are being failed desperately.
On my way up from Kilkenny today, I was listening to a number of news reports on children and young people describing their family and living situation in hubs and bed and breakfast accommodation as like being in prison. As a society, we have completely failed when young people are describing their living arrangements as being like prison. I honestly do not know how many debates we have to have in this Chamber. I said the exact same thing last year about how many debates we will have before the Government realises that this has gone beyond a crisis and an emergency situation given the number of homeless people and the really negative impact this is having on children and young people and on their mental health, on how they see themselves in the world and on their self esteem. They describe themselves as being ashamed and embarrassed and it is not good enough. To be honest, I really do not think the Minister gets it because if he did, he would be doing a lot more about it.
I have very limited time so I want to talk in particular from the education point of view of kids going to school who are forced to live in emergency accommodation. We know that one in every four primary schools has children who are experiencing homelessness and teachers are at the forefront in dealing with the impact of this on the children they are teaching. Where a school has identified a homeless child in a class, it is not the duty of the teacher or school alone to cater for that child. The State must recognise that teachers and schools in these instances must be better resourced and provided with additional wrap around supports to assist homeless students, particularly those undertaking exams, where suitable study spaces and accommodation are critical to their outcomes. They must be able to draw on additional financial supports to provide for the needs of students such as transport, school books and uniforms. Where homelessness has been identified they should be able to provide meals, homework clubs and supervised study. This would tackle the issue of no access to study time or study spaces which Focus Ireland highlights. While not justifying this situation, because when we talk about services we are sometimes justifying the homeless situation, let us at least make it a little bit better for those children who are forced into that situation.
Another measure that we should look at, which has not been explored enough, even though it is often mentioned by Ministers when they speak about the supports that are available for children, is the school completion programme. Its funding has been cut over the last ten years and it has not been increased. It provides a great service to many children and if that programme was better resourced and better financed, it would be able to do an awful lot more. We also cannot just rely on classifying the children who are in the DEIS schools for supports. There are homeless children all over the country, not only in DEIS schools, so we need to ensure that the supports are following the children but at the end of the day, we need to build homes and we need to look at any sort of emergency measures that can be put in place in terms of compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, on properties.
We have to stop talking about this situation in this Chamber and stop normalising it. We have to create solutions. Countless solutions have been put forward. There was a cross-party committee in 2016 on the housing and homelessness situation where we had all-party agreement on many different measures. Let us start implementing some of these. We are constantly told it is not an issue of funding, so if it is not, let us start putting the measures in place. Three years down the road, the situation is getting worse.
These statements are on youth homelessness and I will come back to that issue in the second part of my contribution. However, I cannot stand up in this House today without addressing the crucial report from the Ombudsman for Children on family hub accommodation for homeless families and the harrowing accounts and direct voices of children who are in family hubs.
Before the end of the debate today, I would like the Minister to commit to implementing the recommendations in the Ombudsman's report. There are a number of specific recommendations and I would like the Minister to commit to implementing them. The Minister said in his contribution that he set up a homeless inter-agency group. That group needs to have an emergency meeting in response to the report of the Ombudsman for Children and to set out an urgent plan of action to address the issues that these children have expressed so graphically in the Ombudsman's report.
They expressed feelings of shame, guilt and anger for circumstances that are totally outside of their control. When Deputy Casey was quoting some of the voices of the children, I noted that a number of them said that it was not fair. Children have a strong sense of justice and they want to see matters being fair but because this is outside of their control, they cannot make it fair. There is nothing they can do to make it fair and that sense of anger is bound to grow in those children because they are in a frustrated situation and they are powerless to do anything about it. Some of them said it felt like a prison. They are in this prison situation with their family and with other families that they do not know and they have to all live together.
The family itself is in one room, with an en suite, but they are all in there together in this one room. One might say that was the situation for many families in the past but in the past they were in their own community, they could go out and play in the street and there was a whole community around families at that time. It was not acceptable anyway but now they are in a situation in the family hubs where there are fights going on outside.
A woman who comes to see me regularly is trying to get out of this situation. She has two children who are both going to school and she talks about trying to shield her five year old daughter from what is going on outside the door because her child can hear it. She told me that the teachers in the school are saying that while she was a very quiet child she is now becoming aggressive. That is the kind of psychological damage and scarring that literally thousands of children in the next generation will bear. We have to see something being done about it. Before I came in here, I looked at the table in the appendix to Rebuilding Ireland. The first pillar was on addressing homelessness and there are a series of actions that are meant to be implemented. This is going back almost three years. Action 1 is as follows:
We will accelerate and expand the Rapid - Build Housing Programme to provide, in the first instance and as a priority, more suitable accommodation for families that are currently residing in commercial hotels, while more permanent tenancies are secured. Units delivered over and above the number needed for families in hotels will be used as standard social housing. In addition, the Housing Agency will acquire 1,600 vacant housing units.
That was the very first action. I know the Minister did not publish it but he was in that Government and he is the Minister now. That action has not been implemented. The action on taking families out of hubs by the following summer has not been implemented either and while many families have been moved into hubs, there are still significant numbers of families in hotels. The whole supply issue is nowhere near as fast as it was meant to be or as it needs to be. That is the fundamental problem because the private rental sector simply cannot and should not be expected to deal with this societal problem.
It is a Government and State responsibility to provide homes for people who cannot provide them for themselves. The fact that families are so affected and it is so graphically described in this report has to result in a reflection on the policy position outlined by Government and defended consistently. We have to see a change. I have said many times that we have to see much more focus on using State land to quickly build social and affordable housing.
Practically everybody in this House is taking this issue extremely seriously. It is a crisis for families. There is one group in this House that consistently thinks it is more important to score political points than to solve a huge crisis for children around this country. Let us please get back to the seriousness of this situation. I am using up my time on this but I want to focus on this issue.
I am asking the Minister to implement the recommendations, first, for a constitutional right to housing which is supported widely in this House and is called for in the report of the Ombudsman for Children. My Housing Homeless Families Bill 2017 is stuck waiting for a money message. That is about respecting the needs of children whenever the family becomes homeless. Focus Ireland has said that the Bill if it was implemented would make a huge difference to the way in which families are treated when they enter homelessness. Will the Minister do something about this money message so that we can move this Bill on?
I want to see the homelessness inter-agency group meet because there is a silo issue. The Minister spoke about how the Department of Education and Skills is responsible for one thing and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is responsible for another and Tusla is responsible for something else but we need to make sure that there is joined-up action from these Departments.
I want to focus now on youth homelessness, in particular an issue to which two Sinn Féin speakers referred, namely, young people coming out of care. Earlier this week there was an article in The Irish Timesby Kitty Holland who said that more one third of young people coming out of State care end up in homeless services. There is a proposal in Rebuilding Ireland to increase the number of Housing First homes for young people exiting homelessness. One of the actions states "we will triple the targets for tenancies to be provided by Housing First teams in Dublin." We need to see more Housing First for young people and that is one of the recommendations of the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness. Many of us attended the launch of that group very recently. It includes organisations like Barnardo's, BeLonGTo, the Peter McVerry Trust, the National Youth Council, Focus Ireland, Threshold, NOVAS, the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, St. Vincent de Paul and several others. This is a coalition to address the problem that is often hidden, of young people who do not necessarily present as homeless as they may be couch surfing or they may be with family. Nevertheless, they are extremely vulnerable and their needs need to be addressed. In many cases they have had adverse childhood experiences, mental health issues, etc. They really need the support of a Housing First-type response, which is a wraparound service addressing the variety of their needs. I urge the Minister to consider this report and its recommendations. The primary recommendation concerns Housing First and providing appropriate accommodation for these young people. It specifically refers to communities and accommodating these young people within their communities. There are several recommendations that I urge the Minister to consider.
It is important to address this issue when 3,784 children are identified as homeless. The central issue is how we treat people in this country when they are most vulnerable, and these children are at their most vulnerable. There needs to be permanent solutions for these families. The recommendations of the Ombudsman need to be implemented.
I am reluctant to return to the barbs from across the Chamber but the number of homeless families and children was miniscule when I published that 84 page report, the intention of which was to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. It had several specific implementation recommendations and actions but at that time there was not a crisis in family homelessness as there is now. There is now a very acute crisis affecting many children around the country and that needs an urgent and a focused solution. The recommendations in the report of the Ombudsman for Children point to many practical ways in which this can be addressed.It has to be addressed and treated as a crisis.
Behind the statistics there are people and behind the people are children. The report of the Ombudsman for Children, published today, gives a glimpse of what life is like for children in hubs. A hub is an unnatural environment for children. Their environment should be a home setting, where they can close the door after them and go to school. When the abnormal becomes normal we have a serious problem. This constitutes the institutionalisation of children in the 21st century. In the past there were mother and baby homes, now there are hubs, bed and breakfast accommodation, and hotels where children live. The report states that 800 children live in hubs in Dublin alone and 900 nationally. That does not include over 3,000 children living in emergency accommodation, bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels, and hostels around the State, which is absolutely shameful. We have debated this so much that I feel I am hitting my head against a wall because the Government does not seem to be acting.
At the moment, there are 1,800 children in direct provision, a very unnatural environment for them and their families. That has to be a shameful stain on our society. Other Deputies have mentioned young people coming out of care and trying to find accommodation, which is probably next to impossible. There is a dearth of accommodation, particularly one bedroom apartments around the State.
If a person is coming out of care, there a danger that he or she will become homeless or, even worse, enter the criminal justice system because there is no place for him or her to sleep at night and to call his or her own. It is a pretty awful position for that cohort of society.
I want to get to the crux of this matter. As I and other Deputies have asked, why is the State in a position where 10,000 people are in emergency accommodation and why have "social" and "housing" become dirty words? It was the policy of Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and Fine Gael over the past 15 years. They have dirtied the words "public housing".
The crux of the matter is that we have commodified public housing. It is the reason we have a crisis on our hands. If the Government cannot provide shelter, it does not deserve to be in office. As I indicated to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, as long as the Government has a policy of selling public land to private developers at the height of a housing crisis, that crisis will remain with us perennially until the policy changes.
I also want to use this opportunity to bring home to people the real plight of people by highlighting the horrendous cases of family homelessness that we have dealt with at my constituency office. I will pick three examples for the Minister in order to demonstrate the impact on families and young people in particular. The first involves a mother and her six children who have been living in one room for the past year and a half. Why is that happening? A mother with three boys and three girls must sleep in bunk beds and double beds, all in one room. How is that allowed to continue? They are one of the families dealing with Fingal County Council. They are eligible for HAP but the big problem is that there are no properties where the landlords will take the latter, especially in cases where families are slightly larger. Landlords do not want families or children.
I find it difficulty to restrain myself because when I was elected five years ago, the first Bill to come through the Dáil that I was involved with was sponsored by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who was a Minister of State at the time. I refer to the legislation by means of which HAP was introduced.
We made the point at that stage - it must be remembered that people are being evicted from HAP tenancies - that €23 billion extra would be spent over a 30-year period paying private landlords through HAP when social housing could be built instead. That has been proven by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
The second family I know of are living in a bed and breakfast establishment on Gardiner Street. All these families became homeless after leaving the private rented sector. Those are the reasons that were pointed out in the Bill introduced by Solidarity that the Minister will not accept. That legislation would impose a ban on evictions arising from sale of properties. Such evictions are continue to happen every day, with the taxpayer footing the bill as a result of the Government's failure or unwillingness to take on private landlords. This family to whom I refer had their home repossessed by the landlord and lived in a car in the Phoenix Park for over a month because of the difficulty in trying to get Fingal County Council to accept that they needed hotel accommodation.
I want to speak about the harassment of homeless families. I have evidence to back this up and I will happily send it to the Minister's office. I do not know if it is the policy with other councils but it is certainly the case in Fingal. Families are only being given two weeks security of tenure in hotels. When that period elapses, they are informed by the management of the hotels that they cannot get Fingal County Council to renew the tenure. The family have to show the council all the evidence that they have been looking for HAP properties. Why is that? Is the Government suggesting that these families are enjoying living in single rooms in hotels? Why is this policy in place? It is if the families involved are having fun being homeless. There are no HAP properties so this is a real British Tory-style policy of forcing families to show the impossible.
The family in question asked for a meeting with somebody from the housing department of Fingal County Council in order to discuss their position. However, the truth is that families have been abandoned. If they do not let the council know their position, they are just left there. The family were asked why they want a meeting. Why does the Minister think they want a meeting? They would like to see if there is any prospect of emerging from their current situation. I have all the emails to prove this. These families have to pay for storage facilities for possessions and also for the takeaway food on which, it seems, they must live forever. This was going on five years ago in Blanchardstown and I highlighted umpteen cases at the time. It is not new. The Government knew about it but it does not care. It will not do what needs to be done.
I will highlight the plight of a third family who have been homeless since July 2018. The family had rented a house for eight years but it was absolutely vital for the landlord to sell so the family were kicked out. They were sent to Drogheda for some reason and ended up in Ashbourne. This was despite the fact that the children attend school in Blanchardstown. There are five children and they are one of the families lucky enough to have two rooms, not just one. Again, there are no cooking facilities and they live on takeaway food. When the parents drop their children to school, they cannot afford the petrol to drive back to Ashbourne and all these places each day so they must stick around the Blanchardstown area. They go to one of the community centres, such as Parslickstown, to avail of some of the help that people give there. They must stay in the area.
Why are families being harassed into proving that are seeking accommodation? Does the Minister seriously think they are having a great time in these bed and breakfast establishments and hotels? Will he commit to contacting councils to ask that this should not be done, particularly as it causes real distress for people? I was in my constituency office yesterday afternoon and spoke to a man with whom councillors and people working with me have dealt. He was angry and frustrated because of his experience living in a car in the Phoenix Park. I should say something about period poverty, as his wife and his daughter were having their periods in the car, leaving blood on the seats as the vehicle was in the Phoenix Park. That is an example of period poverty. Is the Government ever going to build public homes on public land to the scale needed in order to take these families out of their misery?
Like everybody else here, we are exasperated by the fact that we are back again to speak about homelessness and frustrated by the sight of people walking into our constituency offices, including with children in prams, because they have been served with notices to quit and their landlords are selling the properties in which they live. There is no tangible response from the Government on these matters. The Minister stated the Rebuilding Ireland is leading to homes being built but in the region of five of every ten homes built are being bought by investors. We do not even have the official figures for the number of homes and estates on top of this being bought by real estate investment trusts. Rebuilding Ireland may be delivering homes but they are being bought by speculators and will not be used by people who need homes in which to live. The level of building is not sufficient to deal with the number of people becoming homeless. However, these properties are still being grabbed by vulture funds and investors. Unless these fundamental matters are dealt with, men, women and children will continue to face this nightmare of homelessness.
I cannot really say much because I only have two minutes. I refer to today's report from the Ombudsman. It is very disingenuous of the Minister to make reference to the report.
We know that this has been happening for so long. It has been going on for years now, and the situation is not being resolved. Seventy-five per cent of council tenancies are now HAP tenancies. This is an incredible figure, and the Minister calls this putting people into homes. There is no security of tenure. We know there are enough public lands in the country to build social homes using the cost-rental model.
The Minister has failed, his Government has failed, and in some ways many people here on the left have failed because we have not held them to account. I am really looking forward to a general election to challenge the Government on these issues.