Deputies

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Homeless crisis

The situation facing the homeless was raised on numerous occasions (Dail Eireann, Debates, 4th February 2014, 5-6, 7-11, 16-18).  Catherine Murphy (ind, Kildare N) said that in 2011, she had seen one homeless family and one single homeless person, but in the past month she had met five homeless families and had been contacted by 18 more.   So far in Kildare, 50 families had sought emergency accommodation this year and the council said that this was the worst it had ever seen.  

 

The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Development, Jan O’Sullivan, told her that she was considering the  report of the oversight group and would consult with her colleagues in government on its implementation.  She accepted that there had been an increase in the numbers of families homeless and it was a cause for serious concern, it was a real and genuine issue.  There would be about 5,000 new housing units this year.  Later, she told Bernard Durkan (FG, Kildare N) that she planned to announce details of a new social housing construction programme for the local authorities under which she expected 650 homes to be delivered.

 

Bernard Durkan said that he knew that she was doing everything possible, but events were catching up with us all: he had never seen the urgency of the situation now presenting itself.  Some couples with children were now living in the open air.  The problem was so serious now it would not go away and would explode into a serious social issue.  The minister of state said she appreciated that it was an urgent problem but she was doing all she could.  

 

Later, she told Brian Stanley (SF, Laois Offaly) that she expected around 1,000 new starts in 2014, of which 400 would be local authority, 250 by approved housing bodies and 350 under regeneration.  Under the voids programme, empty local authority housing would be brought back into use.  She had applied to the European Investment Bank for €100m for apartments in major cities.  Brian Stanley said that this was only scratching the surface: there were more than 100,000 people on the waiting list and only 185 houses were built last year.    Fewer that 500 NAMA properties had been developed.

 

In the Seanad, Aideen Hayden (Lab, Taoiseach nominee) commended the government’s ring-fencing of funding for homeless services (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 5th February 2014, 633-663).   She spoke of the dramatic rise in the numbers of people presenting as homeless, setting it in the context of the housing supply.  She put forward three proposals: discretion to community welfare officers to provide small sums to prevention eviction and thus homelessness; a cap on rent increases; and the prevention of discrimination against people on rent supplements.  She also wanted to know why NAMA could deliver only 400 units when it had more than 10,000.  Denis Landy (Lab, administrative), supporting the motion, told of how shocked he was about the statistics of the number of families presenting as homeless.  He wanted the councils to get back to building houses: there was good work going on in social housing associations, but the best solution to bringing down the housing lists was to ensure adequate local authority housing.

 

Brian O Domhnaill (FF, agricultural) attacked the government motion as self-congratulatory and quoted Fr Peter McVerry who had described the homeless situation as the worst he had ever seen and now out of control.  It was a joke for the government to allocate funds for 600 housing units over 2014-5 when there were 98,000 people on the housing list, which would clear only 0.6% of the list.  There was not even money to repair houses and in Lifford there were 14 boarded up for 12 months which the local authority did not have the money to fix up.  Kathryn Reilly (SF, industrial & commercial) spoke of how rising rents and years of austerity, distressed mortgages and lower wages had brought families to teetering on the brink of homelessness.  There was a massive shortage of social housing, but insufficient action had been taken to overturn that legacy.  Only 29 homes had been built in the capital last year, yet Dublin City Council had proposed a cut of €6m in services which had been avoided on the basis of a verbal commitment to reverse it.  Thomas Byrne (FF, cultural & educational) described the crisis as frightening and there was a massive housing crisis in Meath. Some people were living in little huts and cottages with leaking roofs and broken windows with rats running under front doors.  

 

Cait Keane (FG, labour) spoke of how there was homelessness even in the good old days of the boom.  When the government came into office, there were 98,318 people on the waiting list and now there were 89,872.  When the government entered office, the coffers were empty and we must cut one’s cloth to suit one’s measure.  Providing houses was only part of the solution.  She welcomed the announcement by Allied Irish Banks of new measures to help people with distressed mortgages.

 

Trevor O Clochartaigh (SF, agricultural) related how Galway County Council would build only one council house in 2014.  Despite commitments from government of new money, it was really just a case of shifting the money around to make it look as if something new was on offer – visuals and press conferences, but very little in the way of bricks, mortar and houses.  The government had to get serious and we could not have a housing-led policy without houses.  John Kelly (Lab, administrative) described how, since coming to Dublin, he had met homeless people all over the place, begging for money.  Paschal Mooney (FF, agricultural) drew attention to the rise in rent levels and the impact of harsh social welfare cuts and felt that the minister of state was in the position of trying to walk up a down escalator because the problem was never-ending.

 

Responding, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Jan O’Sullivan told the Seanad that the oversight group had recommended the setting up of a high-level team supported by operational personnel to undertake the preparation and publication of a structured plan to make the transition from a shelter-led to a sustainable housing-led response to homelessness and achieve the 2016 goals. The delivery plan would provide a ring-fenced supply of accommodation to house homeless households within the next three years.  The team and unit would involve officials from her department, local authorities, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Social Protection.  It would report directly to her and through her to the cabinet committee on social policy.  She was considering the oversight group’s report and hoped to bring proposals to government in the very near future.  The government motion was approved 28-15

> Homeless services in Dublin: Dail Eireann, Debates, 4th February 2014, 105-6.

> Homeless soldiers: Dail Eireann, Debates, 6th February 2014, 632-4; homeless women prisoners: Dail Eireann, Debates, 6th February 2014, 800-1.

> §10 funding of homeless organizations: Dail Eireann, Debates, 13th February 2013, 82-3.