Thursday, 10 September 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I wish to raise the conditions for people who have become homeless and are living in emergency accommodation. We spend €2 million every week on private emergency temporary accommodation for people who have become homeless. Increasingly, there is a reliance on private for-profit providers when it when it comes to hostels for people who have become homeless. There is a complete lack of regulation and independent inspection of these private, for-profit hostels. As a result of that, we have seen some degrading and dehumanising rules enforced in some, but not all, the private, for profit hostels.
Some of these rules include, for example, people being told that they are not allowed to stop for a chat with other people who live there, which is an absolute and fundamental breach of their human rights. There has also been a report in the media this week of a privately-run hostel where a woman had died and the other people living in the hostel were instructed that they were not allowed to talk about the death. There have been other rules where people have been told when they are moving in that there is a limit on them to bringing in two bags only. This applies to people who may have to bring all of their possessions with them on becoming homeless and has resulted in them, in that distraught state, having to get rid of much of their limited possessions.
We know that people who are in vulnerable and are in vulnerable situations are often terrified to assert their rights and to make complaints.
They have already had a shattering experience and this is adding to it.
We know the HSE cut funding for community mental health teams that work with homeless people by 13%. According to research done by Dublin InQuirer and Amárach Research on people who are homeless and in hostels, 61% of respondents said that conditions and privacy were poor and 89% said that they had experienced bullying or intimidation. What is the Minister of State, and the Government, proposing to do about that? It is not good enough to say that this is a matter for the for-profit hostel providers, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, or the other homeless executives. The Government is responsible for this area. We are investing significant taxpayer funds into this accommodation and we have reports of very serious breaches of basic human rights taking place in taxpayer-funded accommodation for people who are in a vulnerable position and need to be supported and helped sometimes to access permanent accommodation. This type of treatment undermines the efforts people are making to get back into permanent accommodation. It is a form of shaming. It is utterly unacceptable. I do not believe there is a Deputy in this House, or a member of Government, who would stand over it. I ask the Minister of State directly what he, and the Government, are doing to sort out this issue and to bring independent inspection and regulation into for-profit hostels.
I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for making his point so well. Resolving homelessness is a priority of this Government and the programme for Government includes a range of commitments to support individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has established a high-level homelessness task force, including chief executives of a number of the largest homeless NGOs and the DRHE, which will feed into the implementation of the programme for Government.
Key to addressing homelessness is increasing the supply of housing and the programme for Government commits to increasing supply of public, social and affordable homes. In particular, we will increase the social housing stock by more than 50,000 units with an emphasis on new builds. However, as we address housing supply, there continues to be a significant number of households experiencing homelessness. The Government is committed to ensuring that these households are supported with emergency accommodation and receive the supports they need to identify and secure a home under the various social housing supports that are available.
Local authorities are responsible for the provision of accommodation and related services to individuals and families assessed as homeless. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as it will become, is responsible for the provision of a national framework policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at a local level.
My Department also provides capital funding to local authorities and to approved housing bodies to support the delivery of emergency accommodation for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Family hubs have been developed by housing authorities, in conjunction with their NGO service delivery partners, to provide emergency accommodation that is appropriate for families. There are now 33 family hubs in operation providing over 700 units of accommodation for families experiencing homelessness.
All individuals and families experiencing homelessness are supported by local authorities and their NGO service delivery partners to exit homelessness to a home. A national quality standards framework for homeless services has been implemented to ensure a consistent approach in the way local authorities and service providers respond to the needs of those experiencing homelessness and to improve the quality of services provided to those who need to access emergency accommodation while they progress through homeless services into homes. The framework aims to ensure that the services provided are well-organised, co-ordinated, integrated and focused on moving people into homes as quickly as possible.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on homeless services, as it has across all areas of society. The HSE has issued specific guidance for homeless group settings, which includes details on Covid-19 prevention control measures. My Department is working with local authorities and the HSE to ensure that necessary arrangements are in place to protect individuals and families accessing emergency accommodation. Significant additional accommodation has been put in place to support the appropriate levels of social distancing in emergency accommodation and to provide self-isolation capacity for confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19.
I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I do not believe it is acceptable to say that this is a matter for the local authorities. As these are taxpayer-funded, albeit for-profit, hostels where these alleged abuses of people's fundamental human rights are taking place, it is not good enough for us to say that the local authorities are doing this and that there is a national framework. We need to know the reason there is not a robust independent inspection and regulation system in place to ensure that basic standards and quality are met.
On the point of addressing homelessness, why is it the case that in the national Housing First implementation plan, which targets Housing First as a policy to a very limited group of people, namely, rough sleepers and people who have used hostels long-term, the aim is to deliver only about half of the required tenancies for that targeted group over the course of the plan? Given that it is such a limited group of people, why could we not aim for 100%? In the Dublin area, only 273 Housing First tenancies are targeted. If that was doubled, at least for that very limited group, we could be making serious progress. That is something the Government could be doing and the Minister of State could use his influence to do. What is being done to ensure that basic human rights are met in these taxpayer-funded, Department-funded, for-profit hostels?