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Homeless strategy: plea to avoid cuts

The need for the government to avoid cuts in the homeless strategy was outlined by Terence Flanagan (FG, Dublin NE) in an adjournment debate (Dail Eireann, Debates, 4th November 2010, 87-88).  More than 5,000 people were now homeless, he said and he appealed to the minister to fight for these people and ensure no cuts for them in 2011 because that would affect the long-term government commitment to end homelessness.  Although a target of 1,200 units had been set for long-term leasing, only 171 units had been achieved.  He drew attention to a recent Simon community study of 788 clients and stressed the need to get people out of emergency accommodation into homes in the community.  His party was very much committed to the ending of long-term homelessness and he wanted the €100m budget for 2010 continued into 2011 and also that the capital assistance scheme would be retained or increased.  There were 2,800 ghost estates around the country and more than 100,000 empty housing units.

Replying for the government, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley told the Dail that there was no complacency on the part of the government.   It was an issue close to his heart and he wanted to do his best.  €60m was recently approved under the capital assistance scheme for additional accommodation and there would be more than a hundred units for long-term accommodation for homeless people.  Dublin City Council was undertaking an accelerated programme to bring more of its long-term vacancies back into use and a regional homeless allocations team was streamlining the allocations process, with a parallel initiative developed by Threshold in the private rental sector for an additional 200 households.   Taken together, these had the potential  to make significant progress.

In separate exchanges over homelessness, Ciaran Lynch (Lab, Cork SC) drew attention to the doubling of calls to the HSE homeless persons unit, from 5,000 in January to 9,300 in July (Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th October 2010, 25-28).  The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Michael Finneran told him that he had set up two support mechanisms, one for Dublin Simon to help people with assistance in moving into a home, the other with COPE Galway to deal with the issue there.   He had great faith in the Homeless Agency, local authorities and voluntary bodies.  An encouraging figure was that 724 tenancies had been signed up this year.

Noel Coonan (FG, Tipperary N) raised the wisdom of policies that forced accommodation on local communities and did not have their support, but the minister of state told him of his experience with the Dublin health authority where he had encountered problems with relocating psychiatric patients.  Thankfully this was no longer the case, he said: people who had become homeless for whatever reason were entitled to be housed and start new relationships.  He hoped people understood that everyone was entitled to a home and we all aspired to that.  Terence Flanagan asked would he confirm that the trend in homeless numbers was up.   The minister of state confirmed that there was an indication that there was an increase in the numbers of non-nationals homeless, especially in Dublin.  The 724 tenancies signed was excellent progress.

> Meantime, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Michael Finneran, told Roisin Shortall (Lab, Dublin NW) that the next assessment of housing need would take place on 31st March 2011.  A circular to that effect had been issued to the local authorities in September 2010 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 11th November 2010, 974).