Empty State property to be considered for housing homeless

Plan describes escalating numbers of homeless families as an ‘emergency crisis’

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan will present the “Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness to December 2016” to Cabinet on Tuesday. Photograph: Frank Miller

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan will present the “Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness to December 2016” to Cabinet on Tuesday. Photograph: Frank Miller

Sat, May 17, 2014, 09:38

Former Garda stations, care homes and centres formerly used to accommodate asylum seekers could be used to house homeless families, as part of a Government plan to address the spiralling homelessness crisis.

The “Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness to December 2016”, which will be brought to Cabinet next Tuesday, describes the escalating numbers of homeless families as an “emergency crisis”.

It says there should be a relaxation of the rent caps for families at risk of losing their homes, on a case by case basis, and that local authorities must give priority to homeless households in their housing allocations.

The 83-page implementation plan, which has been seen by The Irish Times, sets out what the Government must do to achieve its objective of ending long-term homelessness by 2016. Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan, who will be presenting the plan, told The Irish Times the homelessness crisis was “coming to a head”. “It’s going to get worse unless we do things,” she added.

The focus of this plan is exclusively on the homeless population, estimated at about 2,700 people. Among these are more than 200 homeless families with children across the State – about 180 of them in Dublin accommodated in hotels.


Dublin numbers
Numbers in Dublin have increased dramatically since November, when there were 128 families in hotels. In May 2013, there were 58. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive expects to spend €4.5 million on emergency accommodation this year, compared with €1.3 million last year and €455,000 in 2012.

The plan says “with the volume of new presentations it is becoming increasingly challenging to provide appropriate and suitable accommodation for these families”. It warns many will have to be transferred out of their hotels as the tourism season picks up, “which will result in considerable disruption for the families involved and increased costs for the State”.

Ms O’Sullivan said she expects the plan to be fully supported at Cabinet, adding it has been approved by the Cabinet Subcommittee on Social Policy.


Supply
The pressing issue is lack of housing supply and her priority is to increase this wherever capacity can be sourced. “If there are empty properties anywhere that are owned by the State we need to look at them,” she said. “People in our department have actually been looking around to see, to say, ‘What about this place, that place?’”

Among possible “accommodation solutions” that should be considered are social housing units that do not meet the standard required for long-term letting but which, with remedial work, could be used for emergency accommodation; former direct provision centres; former Army living quarters; vacant Garda stations; quarters owned by religious orders; and “a number of former hospitals, homes and care centres” owned by the HSE.

The plan says local authorities must be instructed “to bring into use as a matter of urgency those vacant properties that are vacant”.

While some local authorities are reletting dwellings once vacant within six weeks, others are taking up to 40 weeks. “The figures would suggest the length of time houses are left [that] more urgency is required,” said Ms O’Sullivan.