The number of families entering emergency accommodation in Dublin dropped last year, following the decision to stop giving homeless families priority for housing, new figures show.
Dublin City Council last May ended the policy, introduced in 2015, of giving homeless families priority for housing ahead of applicants with a longer time on the social housing waiting list.
The council's head of housing Brendan Kenny said at the time the change of policy was to discourage "prolonged stays" in emergency accommodation in an attempt to secure permanent social housing.
“While it might seem counter-intuitive to cease prioritising families for social housing, it is with a view to encouraging shorter stays and supporting families to rent independently with enhanced financial and social support.”
While the number of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin at the end of 2018 was slightly higher than in December 2017 – 1,252, up from 1,121, the number of “new family presentations” to homeless services fell after the homeless priority policy was scrapped.
From June to December last year the number of new homeless families had fallen by more than 8 per cent on the same period in 2017. However, when the last three months of both years were compared, new homeless presentations were down by 36 per cent.
A report from the council’s housing department said the change had “gradually begun to be understood by new entrants to homelessness”.
The report was issued to councillors earlier this month ahead of comments by council chief executive Owen Keegan in the Sunday Business Post in which he said the quality of Dublin's homeless accommodation made it an attractive option for some people, who may not want to leave.
He is reported as having joked that “the best way to solve homelessness in Dublin would be to provide no beds”.
Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke on Monday, he said the comment had been made to illustrate the point that because better services had been made available more people were inclined to use them.
He added it was “quite possible” that due to better services, people who previously would have stayed with their parents in cramped conditions, were instead presenting as homeless in a bid to access permanent social housing.
City councillors and housing activists criticised Mr Keegan’s comments.
“The housing crisis in Dublin is no joke,” Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe said. “1,300 families and almost 3,000 children are living in emergency accommodation. This is a continuing nightmare for the vulnerable children and adults living in emergency accommodation.”
The chair of the council’s housing committee Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolan said the comments were wrong.
“Homelessness is caused by landlords evicting families and a lack of social and affordable housing. He should immediately withdraw these misleading comments.”
Workers’ Party councillor Éilis Ryan called for Mr Keegan’s resignation.
Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland, says Mr Keegan's comments were "deeply depressing". He said it "seems to be easier to blame homeless families than take responsibility".