Housing units to be ‘ring-fenced’ for long-term homeless

Civil servants will be charged with sourcing up to 2,000 units of accommodation

A homeless person sitting in a sleeping bag at the Bank of Ireland, College Green. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A homeless person sitting in a sleeping bag at the Bank of Ireland, College Green. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 01:00

A “high-level” team of civil servants across three Government departments will be charged with sourcing up to 2,000 units of accommodation to end long-term homelessness over the next three years.

The establishment of such an “implementation team”, led by the Department of the Environment, is the main recommendation in the first report from the “homeless oversight group”.

The group, appointed by Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan in February, includes Prof Tony Fahey of UCD, former civil servant Sylda Langford, and Mark Kennedy, lead partner in corporate accountancy at Mazars. It is tasked with identifying how, by 2016, to achieve the Minister’s goal of ending long-term homelessness.

Long-term homelessness is defined as being in emergency accommodation for more than six months. Among these are “habitually episodically homeless” people who also need to be moved into long-term housing.

Introducing the report, Mr Kennedy said the goal was not about sourcing accommodation for the 90,000 households on the waiting list, but to provide long-term and, if necessary, supported accommodation for a relatively small population of between 1,500 and 2,000 households. The goal was “very achievable”.

The report argues there has been insufficient alignment between agencies helping the homeless and agencies providing housing.

Housing providers “have accorded low priority to housing the mainly single adults who comprise the majority of the homeless”. Hence the need for an “actor with the authority to co-direct these arms of policy”.

A key issue is sourcing units of accommodation and ring- fencing these for the long-term homeless. This could give rise to criticism from those on the housing waiting lists.

“But unless you do something our history shows we have not managed to deal with this problem [of ending long-term homelessness].”

A number of possible sources for units of accommodation are identified, including Nama-owned properties, landlords in the private-rented sector who could be incentivised to let to the homeless, an improved social leasing scheme and housing associations which could be helped purchase units by the Housing Finance Agency.

Mr Kennedy said the process should see emergency hostel and B&B accommodation gradually removed from the system.

Ms O’Sullivan said she welcomed the “very explicit focus on housing supply” and promised “this report will not gather dust”.

“I intend to bring a memo to Government in relation to the overarching plan as soon as possible in the new year.”

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