Homeless figures show families ‘not gaming system’, says charity

Family homelessness continues to rise in Dublin, new data shows

‘Family homelessness continued to grow at the same appalling rate after ‘homeless priority’ was removed as it did before,’ Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland has said.

‘Family homelessness continued to grow at the same appalling rate after ‘homeless priority’ was removed as it did before,’ Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland has said.

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The number of families becoming homeless in Dublin has continued to rise despite the abolition of a “housing priority” policy that had been accused of elevating the figures.

Focus Ireland says the increase indicates families are not “gaming the system”, as had been suggested, by making themselves homeless to get “bumped” up the housing waiting list.

According to the charity, 415 families, including 893 children, became newly homeless in the capital in the four months (June, July, August and September) since Dublin City Council abolished the policy of prioritising homeless families in housing allocations.

This compares with 383 families who became homeless in the four months immediately prior to the decision (January, February, March and April).

In May, Dublin city councillors voted to end the practice of giving priority in housing allocations to homeless families over households that had been longer on the list. This was done at the urging of the council’s head of housing, Brendan Kenny, to discourage families remaining for prolonged periods in homeless accommodation and turning down offers of private rented accommodation.

Any family that has become homeless since May 2018 is now allocated social housing on the same basis as any other family on the waiting list.

Focus Ireland is the lead non-statutory agency supporting homeless families in Dublin and argued against the move in May.

‘Unwitting problem’

Its director of advocacy, Mike Allen said it was important to remember it had not just been suggested “a few people” had been presenting as homeless in the hope of getting a house sooner.

“They were arguing families were becoming homeless for this reason and this was the driving cause of family homelessness.”

He cited the former chairman of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan, who said in January the prioritisation policy could be distorting the numbers.

“We unwittingly created a problem by prioritising self-declared homelessness above all other types of housing need, which created a distortion in the waiting list system and may have encouraged people to game the system.”

Mr Allen said such statements were “not just . . . untrue [BUT]also had the effect of blaming parents for the dreadful situation they were in. Claims like this are an invitation to decent people to stop caring about the plight of families who are homeless”.

“We now have the evidence as to whether his claim was true,” Mr Allen continued. “The evidence shows that it isn’t. Family homelessness continued to grow at the same appalling rate after ‘homeless priority’ was removed as it did before, and in the meantime public attention and energy was drawn away from the real solutions – in particular, building more social housing and giving greater security in the private rented market.”

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