Seanad debates

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

10:00 pm

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for remaining to take the Adjournment of the House despite the late hour. I await his response to the issue of homelessness. The true extent and scale of homelessness in this country is grossly misunderstood. A total of 6.9% of households are living in constant poverty. Homelessness is evident on the streets in villages, towns and cities throughout the country. One only need walk across the road down Molesworth Street and Dawson Street to see homelessness at first hand. In 2005, 185 individuals were sleeping rough in the city so I expect that figure is much higher by now. We need to stand side by side with charities such as the Simon Community which are committed to eradicating homelessness. It is not good enough to aim only at reducing homelessness. The number of people who are homeless each night on our streets is growing and 46% of these are aged between 26 and 39 years of age.

It is predicted that we are set to face an enduring economic recession. With the price of oil at a record high of $138 per barrel and the cost of food and other consumer goods soaring, there is a frightening tenor to the Government's tune that previous targets to help homeless people will not now be met and homelessness will fall off the Government agenda. This is my grave concern.

The Homeless Agency partnership action plan on homelessness aims to have eradicated homelessness in Dublin by 2010. There has been inter-agency long-term professional planning around the provision of housing for the most vulnerable, but there is uncertainty now about Government funding. The recent revelations uncovered by "Prime Time" indicate that the Health Service Executive has substantially cut its funding to homeless services and this cannot be justified. Social inclusion is no longer a priority for the HSE. In this time of growing economic uncertainty, it is imperative that the funding is provided for these essential services.

The Simon Community is at its capacity and urgently needs more resources. I am speaking specifically about the Simon Community in the midlands. Since 2005, that charity has contended that a service for homeless people in the Athlone area and in Mullingar is an urgent priority. Planning has been undertaken and it was hoped that the service would be in operation from September onwards. I believe the service in Mullingar is ready to proceed. However, no operational budget has been published by the HSE. I am aware of an inter-agency strategy but Government budgets do not complement this strategy. None the less, I hope this will happen. There needs to be certainty and assurance for charities such as the Simon Community to help them follow through on their professional long-term planning. They have been working on planning with the HSE and the local authorities for many years.

I understand the national strategy on homelessness is to be launched in a few weeks. Along with other agencies I welcome this but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Will the provision of funding and resources and timetabling for delivery of services be announced at the launch? There must be guarantees from Government to support the agencies in their work. Will the Minister outline exactly when the new buildings in the Athlone area and in Mullingar will be suitably staffed? The HSE promised it would provide the staff for these facilities, but nothing has been done.

We cannot allow people to continue to live on our streets without shelter, food, warmth, education and all the basic necessities we take for granted. We are talking about people, not percentages and statistics. The Government and the HSE must continue to play a central role. The State has a duty to protect and vindicate the rights of all citizens and this extends to homeless people. They have equal rights. The Government is failing the homeless and denying them their rights.

The HSE in its research conducted in July 2005 recommended a dedicated service in the Athlone area. The midlands Simon Community aims to have this service operational in September 2008. Despite the high level of inter-agency working and planning undertaken at a local and regional level since 2005, an operational budget has yet to be confirmed by the HSE. The stark statistics show that the average mortality rate for homeless people is 42 years. This is a crime in this day and age.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I will be taking the Adjournment on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. I thank the Senator for raising the issue of revenue funding for the provision of care staff in shelters for homeless adults. The provision of revenue funding for in-house care staff in homeless shelters and outreach health services to homeless adults is managed by the Health Service Executive. The provision of capital funding for the accommodation of homeless adults is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authorities, as is the funding of non-care staff.

Funding to local authorities for the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons has increased significantly since the adoption in 2000 of the integrated strategy on adult homelessness. A sum of €15.8 million was provided in that year, increasing to €52.9 million in 2007 and amounting to €366 million in total over the seven-year period. This has delivered a wide range of accommodation and services for homeless persons throughout the country, from emergency hostels and transitional accommodation programmes to outreach and resettlement services and long-term supported accommodation.

In the period 2000 to 2007, €171 million in revenue funding has been allocated for the provision of health services to homeless adults. More than 2,000 individual beds and 180 family units in 145 projects have been provided with this funding. Primary care services such as dental, general practitioner, nursing, chiropody, alcohol detoxification and counselling services have been provided in hostels and day centres. Outreach teams and dedicated multidisciplinary mental health teams also have been established.

A revised Government strategy on adult homelessness is nearing completion. It has been developed by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government under the aegis of the cross-departmental team on homelessness with input from the national homeless consultative committee, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE. Its core objective is the elimination by the end of 2010 of the long-term occupancy of emergency homeless accommodation and the need to sleep rough in Ireland. This builds on the commitment made in Towards 2016 regarding emergency accommodation. The intention is to ensure homelessness is of a short duration and that appropriate housing and other supports are facilitated while minimising the risk of homelessness occurring through effective preventative policies and services.

In 2008 the HSE will spend €33 million on the provision of in-house care in hostels and on outreach community health services. In addition, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will make available a sum of €53.2 million towards accommodation and related costs.

The Minister is aware that the opening of some homeless facilities has been deferred because of funding issues which has affected the provision of care staff required to run these facilities. The Department and the HSE are in active consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the voluntary service providers involved with a view to resolving the issue of funding and enabling these facilities to open as soon as possible.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The last paragraph of the Minister's reply is what touches on the wording of my motion, so I am not really impressed by it. I am quite well aware of the services that have been provided, but I do not accept this response. When will these facilities be provided? I accept that a great deal of capital funding has gone into this area but the Minister is aware that the opening of facilities for the homeless has been deferred because of funding issues and this has affected the provision of care staff. That is the kernel of the issue and the basis of my decision to table this Adjournment matter. I ask the Minister to revert to the Minister for Health and Children to obtain a different response because I need a date. These facilities are ready to go but there is no staff. It makes no sense.