Focus Ireland urges council to keep prioritising homeless families

Homeless family should be put to the top of the waiting list – Mike Allen

Chairman of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Chairman of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

One of the State’s largest homeless charities has implored Dublin City Council to keep putting homeless families at “the front of the queue” for the allocation of social housing.

The council is proposing to stop housing homeless families ahead of other candidates on the social housing waiting list, to discourage prolonged stays in emergency accommodation and encourage families to take housing in the private rented sector.

Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland said homeless people would not get any housing without prioritisation.

“Last year Focus Ireland supported over 700 families out of homelessness, 60 per cent of these went to social housing. If the local authority had closed off this route out of homelessness last year, most of these 420 families would still be homeless,” he said.

“The council shouldn’t do this, there needs to be a different response to this, when someone is homeless they should get to be moved to the front of the queue.”

There was “truth” in the council’s assessment that people who stayed longer in emergency accommodation were more likely to refuse private rented housing he said, but that was generally because they had been treated badly in the private rented sector.

“They have taken the rational decision that they don’t want to be going back into that situation because it is so insecure. These are people who are suffering, making choices, and I don’t like that the council is reducing the choices they have.”

This same group of people were the least likely to be an “attractive” proposition for landlords, he said, and would find it extremely difficult to secure rented homes. “Now the council is removing the one hope they have.”

Some city councillors have also raised concerns about the plan. The chair of the council’s housing committee Daithi Doolan said he was concerned the move was an attempt to “deprioritise homelessness” to “take the heat out of the situation”.

“I feel we are attempting to move people from cabins to deckchairs on the Titanic”.

However, his Sinn Féin colleague Críona Ní Dhálaigh said it was an attempt to restore “fairness to the system” for people who were waiting many years on the social housing list.

Solidarity councillor Michael O’Brien said it was a “cynical divide-and-rule tactic” to encourage people to “hold a grudge” against homeless families.

The chairman of the State’s Housing Agency, Conor Skehan, was widely criticised earlier this year for saying families may be “gaming the system” by declaring themselves homeless to jump up the housing waiting list.

The council’s head of housing Brendan Kenny said on Thursday the review of the housing allocation policy had started before Mr Skehan made his comments.

“The process was in place a long time before those comments by Conor Skehan, it’s nothing to do with that. We don’t believe those comments, we have no evidence of people gaming the system.”

Mr Kenny in his report to the committee said the measure was designed to encourage shorter stays in hotels and other emergency accommodation and to support families to “rent independently with enhanced financial and social support,” he said.

“We are concerned that families will endure a prolonged period in emergency accommodation and not consider alternatives, in order to secure what they believe to be the most sustainable option for their family, ie social housing.”

Mr Skehan declined to comment yesterday. Councillors will vote on the proposal next month.