Child poverty

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Housing, homelessness policies of the new government

The minister of state with responsibility for housing and planning, Willie Penrose, announced the intentions of his new department during the debate on the programme for government (Dail Eireann, Debates, 15th March 2011, 123-4).  Delivering social housing was a priority and he said that as someone who started off living in a council house.  Social housing meed, already at a record high in 2008, was still rising and the funding of social housing had suffered harsh treatment over the past number of budgets.  As a matter of urgency, government must develop new approaches to the funding and delivery of social housing, focussed on delivering permanent new social housing stock while reducing long-term dependence on rent supplement.  He wanted to re-invigorate local authorities but also wanted voluntary and cooperative housing to become a more equal partner.  If we demanded more of the sector, it must be provided with a proper support framework, so the regulation of the social housing sector as a whole would be a key focus in the years ahead.

As for arrears, the new minister of state said, the government would not stand idly by and see young people and families thrown to the wolves of repossession. The government would put in place credible, meaningful and compassionate measures to help struggling families to keep a room over their heads.

The new government would also focus on the private rented sector, which had been ‘left in the halfpenny place’ due to the obsession on home ownership and we saw where that got us.  He wanted to make the rented sector a stable and attractive housing option for all and an immediate objective was to address the illegal retention of deposits by some landlords.  On homelessness he said:

‘Long-term homelessness cannot be tolerated in the Ireland of today and it is our intention to end it.  We cannot nor will we tolerate the need for anyone to sleep rough.  The programme for government sets out a range of new initiatives to be brought forward to alleviate homelessness where it has occurred and to prevent its further recurrence’.

Asked about how he would deal with the housing waiting lists by Catherine Murphy (ind, Kildare N), the minister of state told her that a new system for the assessment of housing needs, including maximum income limits, would come in on 1st April under the Housing Assessment Regulations, 2001 made under the Housing (miscellaneous provisions) Act, 2009 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 29th March 2011, 758).  In the course of implementing the Act, he intended to undertake a wider review of social housing policy to examine how it could best meet the needs of those on housing waiting lists.

Specifically asked about the Salvation Army service in Dublin by Joe Costello (Lab, Dublin C), the minister of state, Willie Penrose, told the Dail that as part of the reconfiguration of homeless services in Dublin, the closure of this service was agreed as it was not fit for purpose (Dail Eireann, Debates, 30th March 2011, 958).  He understood that alternative accommodation had been provided for the longer-term residents.  Those who had used it on an emergency basis continued to be provided with alternative emergency accommodation.  The reconfiguration had been essential to move away from the outdated emergency hostel approach were people remained for long periods, damaging their self-esteem and reducing their prospects of progressing to fully independent living.  He was determined to tackle homelessness in a more planned and strategic way by adopting a housing first approach and providing long-term solutions, rather than just managing homelessness.  This approach to service delivery meant a reduction in the amount of temporary accommodation and a move to suitable housing tenancies rather than through homeless accommodation centres.

The new Minister for Health & Children, Dr James Reilly, outlined to Sean Crowe (SF, Dublin SW) his proposals on youth homelessness (Dail Eireann, Debates, 12th April 2011, 798-799).  The minister set the background context of the Youth Homelessness Strategy of 2001 and a 2004 study on the topic commissioned by the Office for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.  Collecting information on youth homelessness had proved to be very difficult for a variety of reasons because of young people not being engaged with the service, multiple referrals and non-homeless children using the service.

The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs had responsibility for implementing and monitoring the strategy and had given the strategy a full review in 2011.  Meetings had been held in recent months to review implementation, improve the quality of information and improve the aftercare service.  The office would engage with key personnel in the public and voluntary sector so as to recommend how youth homelessness should be tackled.  The HSE had recently established a youth homelessness group and an audit of existing services was currently under way.  From January, the HSE had been collecting details on individual young homeless people using services, not individual referrals.  Activity and performance indicators would provide information on children using youth homeless centres, out of hours and emergency place of safety centres.  The HSE had now finalized its national aftercare policy and implementation had commenced with the establishment of an implementation group which included staff and managers, representatives of the voluntary sector and young persons’ representative.