New Focus Ireland figures show 83 families became homeless in February

New Focus Ireland figures issued today (Thur March 31st) report that 83 families became homeless in February and were referred to its family services in Dublin during the month.

These latest figures mean that 208 families and 363 children have now became homeless in the first two months of this year as a record total of 125 families became homeless in January.

These shocking new figures come as the caretaker Minister for Environment, Alan Kelly, convenes his third Housing and Homelessness Forum today (Thursday 31stMarch).

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said: “These numbers clearly show that the family homeless crisis is continuing to deepen with over 200 families becoming homeless in the first two months of 2016 compared to a total of 739 becoming homeless during the whole of last year.”

“It’s not enough for this caretaker Government and the next Government to say they want to tackle homelessness and name check it as a priority. They have to commit to a coherent set of actions required to achieve this urgently.” He added: “It is important to highlight that while the number of families becoming homeless is shocking the situation would be much worse without the work Focus Ireland does in supporting families to move out of homelessness into secure housing.

“In fact, February saw the highest number of families leaving homelessness during a single month. Focus Ireland supported 36 families to secure a home and move out of homelessness. Three other families using our services secured found housing themselves.”

The 39 families that moved out of homelessness secured the following accommodation: *

15 moved to local authority homes

4 moved to social housing owned by Approved Housing Bodies
12 moved into private rented accommodation with the support of the Housing Assistance Programme or similar schemes (4 of these were prevention cases that never had to move into emergency accommodation)
4 moved to Supported Accommodation
3 found alternative accommodation themselves –
1 exited through Sli

Mr. Allen said “It was great to see these families we have been working to support finally find a place to call home. It means so much to them and is so positive for all – especially the children.”

Focus Ireland has said that a programme to tackle the housing and homeless crisis should be at the heart of any new Government, and previously issued a five point plan setting out the key elements which should inform such a programme. These demands include calling for a cast iron commitment to end family homelessness with a firm target date to achieve this and also a commitment to build 40,000 social homes over the next 5 years.

Earlier this week the Dublin Region Homeless Executive reported that the overall number of homeless children in the capital has doubled in the last year with 1,616 children in emergency accommodation compared to 803 in 2015.

Meanwhile, with the political parties in detailed discussions aimed at forming a new Government the debate has also seen a number of key messages emerge including:

A Minister for Housing: “We welcome the growing consensus across the political spectrum that there should be a dedicated Minister for Housing at Cabinet level. We believe that this would be useful but we do not believe that time should be wasted in setting up a new Department, with all the logistical energy that this consumes. What is important is the content of the programme, the broad support of the cabinet for that programme and the allocation of skilled staff at national and local level to see it implemented.

Funding the delivery for social housing: “The fact that private developers have not yet started to build housing in any great quantity puts a great urgency and responsibility on the statutory sector to start a building programme. We cannot rely on the original plan of the outgoing Government to bring housing which had been built by private builders into social use. To deliver the scale of housing required we need a National Social Housing Authority which would build housing on behalf of local authorities and also administer funding for not-for-profit housing associations. With the reported collapse of Government programmes to get investment in social housing ‘off the Government’s books’, the new Government must accept that borrowing will be reflected in its borrowing figures and free up the Housing Finance Agency to provide the low interest investment capital needed”.

Preventing evictions: the action of ‘vulture funds’ in evicting tenants has highlighted the process through which a very large percentage of the homeless families lost their homes – their landlord gave them notice to quit because he/she wanted to sell up or was forced to do so by their own lender. At present, the decision of a landlord to sell up is a legally sufficient reason to break an existing tenancy agreement. Focus Ireland believes it would be reasonably simple to change this loophole so that the tenancy agreement would have to run its full course.

*Editors Notes: The increased number of families moving out of homelessness comes about because of three important developments.

– First, the Government has continued to allocate 50% of all social housing (including AHBs) in Dublin to homeless households. If this fell back to the historic level of around 10%, only 4 families would have been allocated homes and 15 would have remained living in hotel rooms.

– Second, the Government has increased the level of rent payable on the HAP scheme for homeless households to reflect market rents, this means rents are being paid at over 50% above than the Department of Social Protection’s (DOSP)‘maximum rent’ level. This is very welcome as it allows these families access the private rented market, but it demonstrates yet again that the DOSP Rent supplement rules do not reflect reality.

– Thirdly, the four local authorities have increased the number of case workers in the Focus Ireland HAT team. Focus Ireland is the designated Family Homeless Action Team by the four local authorities in Dublin and provides support to the families that have become homeless in the city. We are still completing the new recruitment for the enhanced team, but when it is complete we will be able to provide a case manager for every family and so significantly increase their chances of getting a new home.

Media Contact: Roughan Mac Namara: Ph: 086 85 15 117

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