Tuesday, 19 June 2018
Homeless Persons Data
As of April there were 924 homeless people aged between 18 and 24 according to figures from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. We know that youth homelessness can be subject to substantial underestimation as young people are more likely to stay with family and relatives in situations of hidden homelessness.
The quantitative research on the causes of youth homelessness is quite robust. However, smaller-scale qualitative research which could reveal the scale of LGBT homelessness is quite limited. Numerous countries around the world are showing worrying trends that LGBT youth are, and historically have been, disproportionately more vulnerable to homelessness. There is a growing consensus across the homelessness-research literature that LGBTQI young people are over-represented in homeless youth populations.
Studies in the US indicate that about 40% of young people who access homeless services identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or intersex. A recent study in the UK found that a quarter of young homeless people are LGBT. If these figures are in any way replicated in this State, our responses should meet the needs of LGBT LGBTQI homeless. An Albert Kennedy Trust report found that 69% of young LGBT people reported that parental rejection was a reason for their homelessness. Our current responses are not set up to deal with these kinds of issues or give the kind of support and intervention that the Albert Kennedy Trust and the Purple Door in Britain offer.
The State needs data on LGBT homelessness; only then can targeted responses follow. The lack of data collection also means that young LGBT people are relatively invisible to most housing and homeless services and staff. This can leave them vulnerable to prejudice or abuse in emergency accommodation settings and has therefore led to a higher number of LGBT youth sleeping rough in other jurisdictions.
Focus Ireland has taken the lead in this issue. I commend its work and that of BeLonG To which are undertaking research into the issue. However, we will not be able to track homeless LGBT figures unless we collect the data on PASS intake forms. Inevitably that comes to the Department's responsibility. Has the Government considered data collection on LGBTQI homelessness through PASS? What are the plans to address the issues?
I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. It used to be called an Adjournment Debate in my day. Addressing homelessness is an absolute priority for the Government. Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, contains a wide range of measures which are being delivered. Ultimately, to fully address homelessness requires continued increases in the supply of new houses, particularly social housing. In this regard, the Government is determined to increase the stock of social housing by 50,000 homes by 2021, with over €6 billion ring-fenced to achieve this. More than 19,000 households had their social housing needs met in 2016. This increased significantly last year, when almost 26,000 such supports were delivered. The 2018 target is to deliver a similar level of tenancies via social housing supports. The level of funding available to local authorities has also increased to ensure they are in a position to provide effective supports and assistance to those who find themselves in need of emergency accommodation. In 2018, a budget of €116 million was provided by the Government for homelessness services. This was an increase of 18% on the 2017 allocation.
Despite the high levels of homelessness, results are being achieved. While the numbers remain very high, 2,080 families exited hotels last year and more than 4,700 individuals exited homeless emergency accommodation generally. We are also seeing progress in reducing the numbers of individuals rough-sleeping, with the latest count in April showing a large reduction since the previous count in November 2017. Over 200 permanent new beds were put in place before the end of 2017, with a further 40 beds introduced following Storm Emma earlier this year. The Pathway Accommodation & Support System, PASS, is a case management system which allows front-line staff in local authorities to register service users and provide them with the supports they require while accessing services. It also acts as the source of all statistical information that is used when reporting on homelessness, such as the Department's monthly homelessness report. This report delivers information on the number of persons accessing emergency accommodation in a given survey week, broken down by location, gender, age and accommodation type.
Data protection legislation provides robust protections to individuals, and the core principle of data minimisation ensures that an organisation can collect no information on a person beyond that which is required to carry out its explicit function. It would be inappropriate for a user of emergency accommodation to be asked to provide information concerning his or her sexual orientation. Accordingly, the Department does not collate data in this regard, but I am satisfied that the range of services in place to respond to homelessness can address the needs of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation.
Furthermore, in response to Senator Warfield's points, I do not have information to contradict or to affirm his statement that around the world LGBTQI people are more prone to homelessness, although I think most of us, if we thought about the matter, would see that there is a logic to the argument he makes. They possibly are more prone to homelessness. Those data are not available in Ireland, and I really do not think it would be appropriate for local authorities to know who the gay people and the straight people are on their housing lists.
The Senator spoke about Focus Ireland. In possible answer to his question, while people have a right to their own privacy, I am sure there must be a method to ascertain a breakdown, in consultation with some of the agencies that deal with homeless people, and on the basis of anonymity, of the number of LGBTQI people on homelessness lists. While the official Government response, which I would defend to the hilt, is that local authorities should have no right to know someone's sexual orientation, I believe there is a method by which the Department might be able to fund some of the agencies that deal with homeless people to ascertain a breakdown of that figure while maintaining people's right to privacy.
It is all very disappointing. It would certainly be an appropriate measure if the figures are correct. It is done elsewhere. It would be an optional preference that people would make to disclose their sexuality. It would allow the State to target responses at specific areas. I have met Irish people in London who talk about coming out and telling their family and it having been the end of the road. They go to London, and that is that. We are talking about an apology to the LGBT community being made tonight. These are the kinds of actions that will change the lived experiences of people in Ireland.The evidence is so overwhelming and the issue is so alarming that it should be an initiative taken on by the Government. It is appropriate that we ask people this type of information on intake forms. What we need to know is what comes back from the Focus Ireland report and its work with BeLonG To. I have to say the response is quite disappointing. I acknowledge there is some interest from the Minister of State and the Department in continuing this conversation after the report. Is that fair to say?
I understand the Senator's position, and perhaps this is the difference between our points of view. I really do not think any Government agency should know whether somebody is gay or straight or not, but I think we can address the issue. It would serve no purpose as an optional question on the form. It would not be an indication as to the amount of LGBTQI people who are homeless. Is there a way of using the agencies' expertise in dealing with homeless people and ascertaining on a confidential basis the proportion of homeless people in any given local authority area who are LGBTQI? I am one of those who believes the State already has far too much information on people, and the State has no purpose in having information such as this. However, can the agencies that work with these people bring this information by declaring real figures in an anonymous fashion and not through an optional preference on a questionnaire? People could deal with the agencies face to face and then we would see whether there is an issue. I suspect the issue does exist in other countries, and there is no reason to think there would not be some sort of affect in Ireland. We could then deal with it in Ireland, but I just do not trust the Government as much as the Senator does.