Statements on Homelessness Wednesday 3 December 2014

PLEASE CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

According to the Dublin Simon Community, the official count for rough sleepers last month was 168. This represents a 30% increase in numbers since Spring 2014 and double the number since November 2012.

This is a time of many sickening firsts and all-time highs:

  • Emergency accommodation now has over 1600 adults plus 680 children. That’s never happened before!
  • Of the 1600 adults in emergency accommodation, 39% are women. That’s never happened before!
  • Emergency accommodation is turning into long term accommodation with no viable options to transition onto. That’s never happened before.
  • Many have given up looking for emergency accommodation.
  • Others believe themselves to be safer on the streets than in emergency accommodation.
  • Individuals and families are being are evicted from private rental properties every day of the week, unable to meet rent increases in an unfettered market.

We have an Emergency on our hands and it is winter. A very cold winter.

The numbers are steadily increasing and we need to act. Really act. Not a knee-jerk panicky reaction following the tragic death of Jonathan Corry. A dedicated and sustained response that looks at the crisis holistically.

For it is not just a homelessness crisis. This is a housing crisis.

A housing crisis characterized by a shortage in the social housing sector and a serious lack of affordability in the private rental sector, exacerbated by an absence in rent regulation, a rent supplement scheme completely out of sync with actual rental prices and the absence of measures to prohibit landlords discriminating against tenants on rent supplement.

The unprecedented crisis in the social housing and private rental sectors is pushing non-typical candidates into risk of homelessness and homelessness itself, for example, there are as many as 150 families in emergency hotel accommodation, the majority of whom have been pushed out of the private rental sector by spiralling rents.

Aside from the massive cost to the State, this hotel  and B&B accommodation is completely inappropriate, hugely disruptive for families and children, who may have to move schools as a result, and potentially unsafe.

I call on Government to immediately family proof all forms of emergency accommodation and to coordinate with the Child and Family Agency and emergency accommodation staff concerning child protection.

The crisis is in turn putting unprecedented pressure on frontline services and pushing those more “typically” vulnerable to homelessness (those with addiction issues and mental health difficulties and in complex situations such as young people aging out of State care, victims of domestic violence leaving the home) it pushes them  further and further to the margins only to resurface to public and political attention when they die in their sleeping bag, sleeping rough on the door step of the National Parliament.

The recently published Private Residential Tenancy Board Consultant’s Report found that rent control would make the housing market worse.

Focus Ireland rejected this finding. It maintains that rent regulation is a crucial part of a suite of measures, including an increase in rent supplement to reflect the actual cost of rent and tax breaks for landlords to encourage them to rent their properties.

I would also subscribe to a measure of rent regulation against an index as in many European countries or in line with inflation.

There are many initiatives to be commended, however there are “buts” attached to nearly all of them. For example:

  • Housing 2020 and the recently announced Social Housing Strategy but realistically we are 1.5/2 years away from meaningful delivery.
  • The new rent increase protocol agreed with the Department of Social Protection for families at imminent risk of homelessness but it is only available in Dublin and what we really need is a level of flexibility throughout the system and at an earlier juncture.
  • The Housing Assistance Payment, which is receiving a positive response from Landlords in terms of there being a guarantee around rental payment but doesn’t actually prohibit landlords from refusing to accept tenants in receipt of financial support. Also, how are people to find suitable accommodation within the maximum rent limits?

Excellent recommendations have been made in these regards and more by Focus Ireland, Threshold,  Dublin Simon Community and Peter McVerry Trust. The solutions are there. They just need to be implemented.

In closing, I would like to briefly discuss something a number of colleagues in this House said yesterday concerning Jonathan Corry and the fact that he had been offered assistance and accommodation over the 30 years he had been homeless, which de declined to take up.

I sympathise deeply with Jonathan Corry’s family and friends following his death. I didn’t know him or anything about his mental health status but I think these examples of people failing to take up an intervention and seemly choosing to remain homeless needs to be viewed in light of the Dublin Simon’s recent statistics on mental health difficulties among their service users, whereby 71% were identified as having a mental health difficulty.

Of those identified with a mental health difficulty:

  • 63% of individuals have been diagnosed with depression.
  • 46% have been diagnosed with anxiety.
  • 11% have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • 11% have been diagnosed with psychosis.

A very high proportion of people who are homeless have addiction issues.  Furthermore, a very high proportion of people who have a mental health difficulty also have an addiction issue.

I call on the Government to urgently implement the key recommendations from Mental Health Reform:

  • Fully staff homeless outreach mental health teams.
  • Ring fence local authority housing for people being discharged from psychiatric hospitals.
  • On-tap, in-house mental health expertise within homeless services. E.g. Merchants Quay Ireland has an in-house mental health nurse full time, to provide support to clients that other staff members have concerns about. There are anecdotal reports that this has reduced the number of people having to access mental health supports through A&E when in a crisis.
  • Establish a dual diagnosis services for people with a mental health and addiction/alcohol misuse problems.

We have the reports. We have the plans. We have the expertise, particularly in the NGO sector. What we need now is action. Sustained and dedicated.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”