Dublin Homeless Network, Limerick and Clare Homeless Alliance, Cork Social Housing Forum

Before we commence, I ask people to turn off their mobile telephones or turn them to flight mode, as they interfere with the recording and broadcasting of the proceedings.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

The opening statements will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I welcome Mr. Declan Dunne, Mr. David Carroll, Ms Fionnughla McLoughlin and Ms Fiona Barry from the Dublin Homeless Network, Ms Tríona O’Connor from the Limerick and Clare Homeless Alliance, and Mr. Aaron O'Connell from the Cork Social Housing Forum.

The groups’ submissions have been received and circulated to members. I invite Mr. Declan Dunne to make his presentation.

Mr. Declan Dunne

The Dublin Homeless Network comprises 16 organisations which provide services for homeless and socially excluded households. Many of our members are well known; others, less so. The network provides the full range of specialist services, supports and accommodation types in Dublin, while several member organisations provide services around the country. The network works closely with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, which has one operational plan covering the four local authority areas of Dublin. We four representatives here sit on the statutory Dublin Joint Homelessness Consultative Forum and Management Group, as well as the implementation advisory group in the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive.

The committee is well aware that by any measure Ireland’s housing and homeless situation has reached crisis point. The homeless crisis affects the entire country and is acute in Dublin. Housing supply is significantly below housing need. The private rented sector has contracted at a time when demand has surged forward, with a consequent increases in rents. People who were never homeless must now live with their families in hotels. We will never have a truly thriving economy without a functioning housing market.

Homelessness in Dublin falls into two clear parts.

The first consists of the new homeless who, tragically, find themselves living with their children in hotel rooms and individuals living in temporary emergency accommodation. Often these people are working and, generally, have no previous experience of the factors traditionally leading to homelessness. Many of the new homeless have the skills to live independently and are now homeless principally due to housing affordability reasons. With support, affordable housing and a properly functioning social housing regime and private rented market, we believe they can live independently again. If they access the homes they need, the level of specialist support from our type of organisations should be limited.

The second category consists of those individuals and households whose life experiences often put them on a trajectory that includes homelessness. Homelessness is symptomatic of other life events resulting in complex needs. All of us, including our family members, friends or neighbours, at some time in our lives can experience factors that can lead to homelessness. The members of the Dublin Homeless Network are committed to respecting the dignity of every individual and working to support those with complex needs. Many of those who are homeless have come from a background of grinding poverty and chaotic home lives. Often they have been taken into the care of the State as children. Many have been victims of violence and domestic abuse, some are caught in a trap of substance addiction, many have a poor experience of the education system and lack the marketable skills to provide for themselves and others have mental and physical disabilities.

Much of the work of the 16 homeless organisations that make up the network involves the professional delivery of care and structured support using needs analysis, agreed care plans and case working for people with complex needs affected by or at risk of homelessness. This helps those people, most of whom have dual diagnoses, to access and engage successfully with external specialist medical services. We are focused on empowering people to provide the varying level of supports they need so that they can go on to live independently. We support the comprehensive development in Ireland of the Housing First model of accommodation with wraparound supports in a way that has been proven internationally to address the complex needs of homelessness successfully.

Our submission identifies many detailed factors relating to homelessness and specific recommendations under four categories. These are prevention, which involves ceasing the flow into homelessness; emergency accommodation; access to housing; and keeping people who move out of homelessness in housing. I will hand over to Mr. David Carroll, who is our vice chair and who will briefly take the committee through our recommendations.

Mr. David Carroll

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to appear before the committee. Our approach to our work is straightforward. We try to stop people becoming homeless in the first place, support people to get out of homelessness and keep them out of homelessness. We have a number of recommendations relating to the four themes outlined by Mr. Dunne.

The first is ceasing the flow into homelessness and prevention. Our first recommendation relates to housing advice and advocacy. The Government's homelessness policy statement and the implementation plan on the State's response to homelessness state that preventing homelessness has a key role. Therefore, all local authorities should have a statutory obligation to provide information and advice for those threatened with or at risk of homelessness. I will pass over to Ms Fionnuala McLoughlin, who will discuss our second recommendation.

Ms Fionnughla McLoughlin

We recommend reform of the rent supplement scheme to reflect market rent. A 15% increase in rent supplement is inadequate in the current climate. The majority of increases in rent supplement secured by Threshold for Tenancy Protection Service clients were at least 20%, with 150 clients given increases of more than 40%. Rent needs to be looked at a local level. The rent on a two-bedroom house in Dublin 2 is €1,668, while the rent on a two-bedroom house in Dublin 15 is €1,101. We also think that effective rent regulation is the only way to address ongoing unaffordable rent increases. Rent certainty measures linking future rent increases to the consumer price index should be introduced.

The housing assistance payment, HAP, needs to be extended nationwide along with the HAP place finder service, which has been very successful in Dublin. There is a need for an awareness campaign across the country regarding the HAP. Half of the clients who use the Tenancy Protection Service in Cork were under a valid notice of termination and had never heard of the HAP system.

We have assisted and advised more than 8,000 callers to the Tenancy Protection Service and have saved 2,300 tenancies so people could remain in their accommodation and not enter homeless accommodation. Ms Fiona Barry of Crosscare will discuss emergency accommodation.

Ms Fiona Barry

The network's primary recommendation is that resourcing prevention is key to stopping the crisis. However, until resources are put into prevention and people stop coming into emergency services, we require emergency provision across the sector as an emergency response. Access to emergency accommodation of a good standard is a basic human right. No person should ever have to sleep rough. I sat outside in the waiting area and I looked at the beautiful area outside and I wondered how much funding and resources could be put into the provision of emergency accommodation.

Resources are also required for placements in people's local areas. Placement is the way we assess people and ensure they have an exit from homelessness. These are required for single people, couples and families. We urgently require additional emergency accommodation. While cold weather facilities were opened for the six months of the winter period, they are closing. Sleeping rough is an option during the summer months and it is not a human right to have a bed for the night during the summer months.

The Brú emergency accommodation facility has gained attention in recent weeks. Last night Brú had 58 empty beds with a full staff team. I understand from colleagues that the Dublin freephone service refused 90 people due to lack of emergency accommodation. This is not just an issue of the Brú Aimsir facility. Emergency facilities are required across the city in order to respond to the increasing numbers of people coming into homeless accommodation. People coming into homeless accommodation have very complex needs. HSE budgets must be restored to 2010 levels because we require urgent medical facilities to be provided on site to people experiencing complex medical needs. While access to emergency provision is required, our goal is to get out of the business of providing emergency accommodation. We do not want people to live in emergency accommodation permanently. We want them to have access to housing.

Mr. David Carroll

Our third theme is access to housing. We deal with some of the most vulnerable households and people in the country and the city. One of our most significant challenges is obtaining housing and gateways into housing in the community. As Ms Barry outlined, it is not our intention to keep people in temporary accommodation for the rest of their lives. Housing and housing-led approaches are key to solving homelessness for these vulnerable groups. People who are homeless must be prioritised as having the greatest social housing need and priority must be given to long-term homeless households. The supply of units to accommodate different household types must be provided. The committee is dealing with this in other sessions.

A review of the local authority and approved housing body selection and allocation schemes must occur. The review must take into account estate management, treatment of local authority arrears, local authorities' refusal to accept housing applications and the allocation policies of approved housing bodies. In this section, we are focusing on the under 25s. We passionately state that single, independent people under the age of 25 have the same housing needs and costs as those aged over 25. Therefore, the full social welfare payment should be restored to the under 25s.

Our final theme is keeping people who move out of homelessness in housing. Our organisations do a remarkable job, even during the current crisis, to ensure people move out of temporary accommodation into the community.

A recently established concept which is internationally recognised, Housing First, ensures housing is provided first. The provision of wraparound supports in conjunction with it is a key solution in working with vulnerable groups. We, therefore, call for Housing First programmes which have proved successful in tackling long-term homelessness. They require available housing and wraparound support services. There is a need for increased investment in these programmes and a wider focus on specific groups, including young people. There also needs to be a focus on how to obtain more suitable tenancies for Housing First purposes.

Support to Live Independently, SLI, is an existing service model. It is a community support for people who move back into the community from temporary accommodation. SLI-type supports need to be tailored and extended to need and linked with tenancy sustainment services in a continuum within the community.

Our final recommendation relates to individuals whose health has deteriorated so much that they require supported accommodation. In many cases, this will be for the remainder of their lives. Consideration needs to be given to the long-term care needs of homeless persons with complex health issues. As those living in long-term accommodation units continue to age, consideration needs to be given to how to support them as their health diminishes. An increase in such accommodation provision is needed, together with an increase in the health services provided for such units. A definitive pathway into nursing home or palliative care for those whose health has deteriorated seriously is also required. It is a major travesty that homeless individuals with nursing home needs find it hugely difficult to access nursing home care.

Mr. Aaron O'Connell

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste as ucht an deis teacht chun labhairt leis. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute on behalf of the Cork Social Housing Forum, CSHF. I am assistant director of Cork Simon Community. The forum comprises 19 organisations in the voluntary sector. Groups in the statutory sector have recently sought membership, which is indicative of the challenges staff in mental health services and so forth face in trying to decant people from acute hospitals and other facilities into housing. We believe access to housing is a basic human right, as well as a human need. There is quite a mix in the spectrum of politicians before us. We all agree that the most vulnerable citizens in society find themselves in difficult circumstances. There are single people and families comprising women and children. There is huge motivation to drive this process forward to come up with a strategy to deal with all of their needs and ensure nobody will be left behind.

My colleagues from Dublin have mentioned many of the issues involved. Therefore, I will not go through my full submission. We are faced with a huge crisis and the human cost to the most vulnerable of citizens is inestimable. In many respects, as a society, we will pay a price for this long into the future as we will have to continue to deal with it. There is a major imperative on us to find solutions to problems that have their roots in the lack of a social housing programme for many years. We are paying a price for this every day. Coupled with this, we have experienced the economic collapse. When the issue is examined from the perspective of those providing homeless services and attempting to provide move-on accommodation for people, every system is under huge pressure, with some bursting at the seams. Since 2011 Cork Simon Community has experienced a ninefold increase in the number of people sleeping rough.

That is from 38 people who slept rough one night or more in 2011 to 345 in 2015. That is indicative of the change that has come about in the intervening period.

This needs to be about solutions and we need to find immediate wins to deal with some of the issues that exist. One of those, which was outlined earlier, is to prevent people from falling into the system as it is. We must do everything we can in terms of bank foreclosures and people who find themselves unable to pay the rent because it has gone beyond their ability to pay. Those issues need to be dealt with. No one should be allowed to become homeless simply because of the gap between their income and what is requested from the landlords. It simply should not happen. It is a false economy not to pay it in the short term. By doing that, we are pushing more people into services that already cannot cope with what they are dealing with. We need to get a bit real about what we are doing here and how we do it. When we deal with the issues here, we need to deal not only with the immediate issues but ensure whatever we do makes a huge positive contribution to the long-term solutions we need to find. They need to be sustainable because it is about building communities as much as it is about building houses.

One of the things we need to do in terms of any housing strategy in future is to avoid the mistakes of the past. That should be a principle that underpins any housing strategy in future. We can no longer depend on the market to provide. The solution to homelessness and housing is about looking at a suite of different responses. The market has proven that it cannot provide and we need to look at other solutions. The idea that we can depend on the private market to solve these problems is long past its sell-by date.

In terms of some of the more short-term responses, rental properties are just out of the range of people who are on low incomes, so rents need to be capped. It is important to have some independent and external objective criteria, for example, to link it to the consumer price index, in order that at least people's incomes would match what is expected in terms of what they pay in the rental market. The most immediate thing that can be done is to increase rent caps to stem the flow into homelessness in the short term. We can do that and we need to do it. We do not have a choice and doing nothing is not an option.

The most acute aspect of homelessness is sleeping rough. Those who are long-term homeless also need to be prioritised for housing. There is a really good reason for that, which is that they disproportionately hold up beds in emergency accommodation throughout the State. Moving them on will free up beds that will allow us at least to try to bring in those who are sleeping rough at present. It is not easily done because we are dealing with individuals, many of whom have very complex needs. No two needs are the same in many respects but there are commonalities. The Housing First approach has been proven internationally - by Pathways in New York, right across Europe, in Finland and other countries - to have a huge impact in terms of moving people who would previously have been thought of as very difficult to house. It has been a success in over 80% of cases in many countries. It is not just about housing but also about the supports for people with complex issues of mental health, addiction, dual diagnoses and so forth. We need to be very focused on the fact it is not just about families or single people but about both. We need to be sure nobody is left behind. That is really important.

The other quick-fix solution that could at least deal with some of the issues is to address the voids in local authorities. In some cases it is taking up to 12 months to turn a house around, which is something that needs to be looked at. New targets need to be set for the turnover of these houses and the obstacles that are faced by tearing out the insides of houses, replacing them and putting them back the way they were. These things need to be looked at and we need to be very practical in how we deal with this. We are talking about people's lives so we need to look at what we can deliver for people and we should always look for something that we would be satisfied to take for ourselves.

The other resources of the State and the local authorities also need to be marshalled, and this includes NAMA. The remit of NAMA has primarily been to deliver for the Exchequer but there are two ways in which one can deliver: one can deliver for the Exchequer in monetary terms but one can also deliver a social dividend. In our view, the social dividend has not been delivered to the extent it should have been in terms of supporting social housing provision for the State. The vulture funds are basically selling off the assets they have bought from NAMA. If necessary, the Government should seek to CPO those assets in order to stop people becoming homeless. We have to stop that flow and look at what NAMA can deliver. I believe there is much about NAMA we do not know and there is certainly more it can do in regard to becoming a greater part of the solution than it is at present.

In recent years, certainly since 2008, there has been a huge cut in supports and resources for both the voluntary and the statutory services, many of which are struggling to cope. Capacity has been lost and, in some of the local authority areas, corporate memory has been lost. The resulting deficits need to be addressed because, if we are going to deal with a house building programme, which is what we are advocating, we need the people in place who can deliver that. Those resource issues need to be dealt with.

We need to treat this as the national crisis that it is. There should be no shirking from using the mechanisms available to the Government and local authorities, such as compulsory purchase orders or Part 8 planning, to speed up the delivery of housing. There are also other resources which are within the gift of some of the local authorities. There are derelict sites and housing that are not currently being used. I am led to believe that in Cork, the local authorities know where these are and who owns them. I believe this would speed up the delivery of social housing. We should maximise the ability of the local authorities and the voluntary sector, working in consultation and conjunction with each other, to effectively and as quickly as possible deliver any of the units this might leverage.

Let us be clear: social housing is the key to solving this problem in the long term. Whatever we do in the short term, we need to provide social housing. There is an imbalance in terms of what is being provided at the moment. In 2004, 10% of the provision was by private rent and it is now 20%. The private rented sector is in difficulty and we need to deal with that end of it. However, we also need to look at provision by the local authorities and the social housing providers. We need to use the resources they currently have, so there is in-house capacity to design and develop housing within the social housing providers. If it is not there in the local authorities, then we need to lean on them. Everybody needs to be part of the solution.

In the long term, a State-sponsored house building programme needs to be led by the local authorities and, it is important to say, this needs to be done in partnership, with everybody working together. This is a shared problem and we have shared responsibilities. In the immediate term, housing acquisition is a short-term solution but the finances need to be provided to allow the local authorities to purchase units that are available and ready for immediate occupancy. This is one of the key things they can do in the short term.

The problem is huge but it is not insurmountable. It is not beyond the talents, commitment and motivation of people in this room and the services that are out there, be they statutory or voluntary. We just need the will to do it. We need to prioritise this as an issue in terms of resource provision. Co-operation is going to be one of the key issues and cross-departmental and inter-agency buy-in is critical. In some cases, those of us within the system are working against each other in many different ways and we make things very difficult in regard to HAP and all the other things we do.

We need to simplify what we do and make it easy for people to navigate the system and to know about HAP, what it is, etc. We really need to get to grips by making it simple. We are making it hard for each other and nobody has either the time or the resources to be wasting time on things that could be easily dealt with, some of which are mentioned in the full submission.

It has to be led by somebody and that person should be the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. What is done should be planned, with clear objectives, specific targets and timeframes for delivery. Teams must be tasked to deliver and there is a need for decision makers with authority who will overcome the inevitable challenges that will emerge from many different sectors and positions. They must deliver housing as quickly as possible. We can do that but we need to do it while meeting the requisite standards and do it in a transparent and accountable way. We should all be accountable. It is public money. It belongs to the people and should be spent particularly for the most vulnerable of our citizens. We need that can-do attitude. We really must get to grips with that. We need to know that we can solve the problem. It is huge and very difficult but it can be done. Families and single people are in crisis and they are depending on us to deliver for them. That is a huge responsibility. It is a shared responsibility. It is a responsibility for all of us. We need to be very practical in what we do and how we do it. No stone should be left unturned in terms of this delivery. The time for action is now and we should not leave anyone behind.

Ms Tríona O'Connor

My name is Tríona O'Connor and I am currently the project leader with Focus Ireland in Limerick. We cover Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary, but I am here today in my capacity as the chairperson of the Limerick Homeless Alliance and the Clare Homeless Alliance. Both are separate alliances which meet separately in Limerick and Clare, and I happen to have the job of chairing both.

The Limerick Homeless Alliance and the Clare Homeless Alliance welcome the establishment of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness and its short, focused approach to identifying solutions to a crisis that is impacting on so many families and individuals. We really appreciate the opportunity to speak today.

Homelessness is a complex problem with both economic and social causes. It is frequently about much more than a housing problem but it always includes a housing problem. Every exit from homelessness requires a house. Other supports are often needed, but housing is paramount. This submission takes its lead from the committee's agenda and therefore concentrates on housing. It is important to note that in order for homelessness to be effectively tackled, a broad range of measures are needed. Just as there is recognition that the current crisis results from a lack of investment in housing, it also needs to be recognised that the lack of investment in social infrastructure, such as mental health, social work and so on, must also be reversed if we are to truly solve the problem.

Addressing homelessness requires a sustained commitment, strong principles and a clear vision of what is needed by families, communities and the society. In its short lifespan, this committee cannot solve the full range of problems. However, we hope that it can help to establish such principles across the political spectrum in order to sustain longer-term policy-making. The submission concentrates on measures that can and must be initiated immediately, but in some cases their impact will be immediate and in others it will take time to come into effect.

The Homeless Alliance in Clare and Limerick is made up of all voluntary organisations in the area. About 12 different organisations are involved in providing services in the Limerick city and county region, and in Clare it is made up of 14 organisations, both statutory and voluntary. The alliances and all the organisations that are around the table are there to prevent single people and families from becoming homeless but also to support exits from homelessness. Some of the barriers and solutions that we felt were relevant to name today - and we go into much more detail in the submission - are the same as those to which my colleagues have referred already. The lack of housing supply, particularly affordable housing, is definitely a major barrier for the people with whom we work in the mid-west region. Others are the rapidly rising rents, over-reliance on the private rental market and insufficient rent supplement levels. We also feel that the HAPs need to be reviewed. There is a serious lack of one-bedroom accommodation nationwide.

On 26 April, five one-bedroom units were available in Limerick city, the rent for which was between €500 and €650 while the rent supplement cap is €375.

Insufficient capital funding results in fewer approved housing bodies providing housing units. There is a disproportionate burden of financial risk on the approved housing bodies which, depending on their size, is a disincentive to their developing social housing units. The reduced social welfare payments to those aged under 25 is also a barrier. There is a huge increase in youth homelessness at present. According to the current statistics, more than 50% of people accessing hostel accommodation in Limerick and Clare are 30 years of age and under. This is a frightening statistic.

Some of the solutions we believe are relevant include a wide-scale long-term social housing building programme which, as my colleagues have said, is key. There should be a partnership approach between the State and the approved housing bodies. Front-loading accelerated capital advance leasing facility payments would enhance the ability of approved housing bodies to provide social housing by freeing up cashflow. There needs to be an extension of homeless housing assistance payments outside Dublin and Cork. It is not available anywhere else and is definitely needed in the mid-west. There needs to be an increase in rent supplement as a preventative measure to keep families and individuals in their homes. The statistics on one-bedroom apartments are relevant in this regard. There is a need to recognise prevention in the Housing Act and amend section 10 in order that people can be resourced adequately to provide preventative strategies. Rent regulation should be implemented and linked to the consumer price index, and this has been mentioned. There should be a speedier turnaround of vacant social housing units. As has been stated, it can take up to 12 months for a housing unit to become available. This is not acceptable during the biggest housing crisis we have had. More social housing should be made available throughout the country to Housing First and other housing-led projects. We need to restore to their previous level the reduced social welfare payments to those aged under 26 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We need to recognise in the Constitution the right to a home. We need to recognise the increase in youth homelessness as a very real issue nationwide. We need better land management by the Government to prevent hoarding by NAMA and developers in areas where housing is most required, and this should include a national register of sites.

I thank the witnesses for their opening statements and presentations. As we have three distinct groups of witnesses, if questions are being directed to somebody in particular, this should be stated at the outset. I ask the witnesses to avoid repetition, but they should feel free to comment on questions which have been asked. Mr. O'Connell stated we are here to look for solutions, and this is the remit of the committee. If there is something on the mind of the witnesses, I ask them to be as direct and forward as they like. Rather than having a history lesson, we are trying to come forward with real and practical solutions. All the witnesses have made written recommendations and they should feel free to add to these during the course of the afternoon.

I commend the organisations represented here today and the other organisations represented by the network. We see today that the official homelessness figures of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government are at their highest point ever, with 6,000 people, including almost 2,000 children, affected. To put this in context, the official figures from the Department in 2008 were 1,394 people. I know many of us disputed these, but if the official figures have shown a quadrupling at a time when the budgets of the witnesses' organisations as well as those of the local authorities and the Department have been reduced, it shows the scale of the challenge with which they work daily.

Some of my questions are specific and some of them are general and people will be able to work out which is which. I will start with Brú Aimsir, which as people know is a 100-bed emergency hostel in Dublin. Ms McLoughlin stated 58 beds were available last night and we know approximately 90 people were turned away by the freefone service to access these beds. What Ms McLoughlin did not state, and I want her to confirm this for the committee, is our understanding that the hostel is to be progressively closed by the end of this month.

Since those people have move-on or permanent accommodation, they will not be replaced by others who become homeless. This means that the city of Dublin will lose 100 beds by the end of this month.

Will the witnesses also confirm that the facility in question is ultimately owned by the State? While it is the Digital Hub's premises, the Department of communications is responsible. At a time when 90, or even 100 based on the last count, people were on the streets last night, the State is facilitating the closure of approximately 100 beds. If the committee does nothing else today, we must send a clear signal to the Minister for communications to pick up the phone to the Digital Hub and say that not only should the hostel not close, but the beds should not be removed from the system. Will the witnesses comment on this matter?

I share the desire to see rent supplement increased, but I have a major concern. Under the programme for Government, there will be an increase in rent supplement and the housing assistance payment, HAP, but it does not say that there will be rent certainty or that rents will be linked to the consumer price index. I fear that just increasing rent supplement and the HAP on their own will create an upward pressure on rents. For people who are reliant on rent supplement and low-income families who are not eligible for rent supplement in counties where there is no HAP, this could make the situation worse. What are the witnesses' opinions on rent certainty and its importance as a complementary measure to rent supplement increases?

If any of the witnesses can give the committee indications of the average length of time spent in emergency accommodation in their areas of the country, it would be useful.

There is a debate about people who become homeless because of the more traditional triggers that Mr. Dunne mentioned and those, in particular families, who become homeless purely as a result of the other aspects of the housing crisis. Will the witnesses reflect on this issue? Does it disadvantage those who are becoming homeless because of traditional triggers, that is, are they being pushed to one side even further as the public focuses on families with children and what to do in that regard?

The homelessness budget is €70 million. The programme for Government commits to this level of spending, but what do the witnesses believe is the real spend that is required to meet emergency accommodation needs? It was stated that the HSE fund should be returned to 2010 levels. What is that in money terms?

Will the witnesses discuss the difficulties surrounding appropriate emergency accommodation for families with children and for people with special needs? Much of the emergency accommodation is pre-2008 and consists more of low-threshold hostels. Hearing some information on this matter would be valuable for us.

I take Mr. Carroll's point about the allocation schemes and people who do not have homes getting priority. However, prioritising those with the greatest need, including needs beyond their housing needs, for example, mental health or addiction needs, creates a difficulty for local authorities from the point of view of good and sustainable community estate management. How should these two aspects be married?

Previous committee meetings heard conversations on rural-urban issues. Most of the witnesses work in urban areas, but the committee would like to hear more from those who are not about the specific challenges facing families at risk of homelessness and in emergency accommodation in their areas.

A range of questions have been asked. Who wants to start?

Ms Fiona Barry

The questions to me on Brú Aimsir are the easiest and I might be able to assist the others with their answers. Brú Aimsir opened as a cold weather facility for a definite time period and was due to end at the end of March, as would usually be the case for cold weather facilities. This relates to the point on whether accommodation for a night is a human right all year round or just for a few months in the winter. The Digital Hub Development Agency and the businesses within the Digital Hub have been phenomenally supportive of the service at every point along the way from day one. In some of the media, they have received negative attention.

Since the facility opened in November, we have moved nearly 200 individuals who would have been sleeping rough and in the one-night-only system to more secure, stable accommodation.

In other words, they have been moved through the chaotic rough sleeping stage to longer term placements, be that supported temporary accommodation, temporary emergency accommodation or tenancies of their own. Throughput at the facility has been phenomenal. While there are currently 43 people on-site, we expect to be as successful moving them through the system, following which, one by one, the beds concerned will be closed and the lease will expire. We have done what we were asked to do in terms of our contract, which was to move as many people as possible through the system, and the Digital Hub has done what it was asked to do in terms of the provision of the facility. However, we are now in a situation whereby the housing that was supposed to be provided has not materialised.

The private rented sector is not accessible to people in homeless services and there are many blocks to those individuals accessing local authority housing, which does not exist anyway. As pointed out, the flood of people into homeless services has been so dramatic that up to the point when we started the orderly wind-down of the facility we were operating at capacity, such that it was agreed that beds would only be closed as people moved through the system. In other words, rather than closing the facility on 25 or 26 March to 101 people, we agreed that a bed would be closed only when an occupant has been moved to a longer term placement. In terms of placement this week, as the central placement service was unable to continue to place people on a one-night only basis, we took in the people on rolling placements, with whom we will work to move them out of the system. Those 43 people remain in the unit. From a personal perspective, it is difficult for the Crosscare staff team to be in a building in which beds are empty while there are people sleeping outside in sleeping bags because they cannot access beds.

In regard to the facility, I understand it is a State-owned building which forms part of the property portfolio of the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources and that for the facility to remain operational the agreement of that Department would be required. That is not what we want. Although the facility is a converted warehouse, those who have seen it will be know that it is of a high standard. The people who came to stay at the facility yesterday told us they feel safe there and it is where they want to be. In comparison with sleeping rough, the facility is of a very high quality. In regard to Deputy Ó Broin's question, that is what needs to happen, but Brú Aimsir is only the tip of the iceberg. What we need is increased emergency accommodation while we are resourcing a housing scheme. Until that happens, we will have to invest in additional emergency accommodation for single people, couples and families. Otherwise, the number of rough sleepers coming into the system will continue to spiral. What we need is additional emergency facilities that are adequately resourced.

Mr. Declan Dunne

As stated earlier, we are all committed to independent living and we want to move away from emergency provision. However, I would like to make a couple of short statements. According to the most recent rough-sleepers count for Dublin, there are 102 people rough-sleeping. In addition, there are close to 70 people in Merchant's Quay café over night and 101 people in the Brú Aimsir facility. The effect of the closure of this 101-bed facility will be to double the number of rough-sleepers over night. I do not believe any of us wish to see that happen. We have a good service provider and a funder. All that is required is agreement to the continued operation of this facility until such time as another facility can be found.

I think Deputy Ó Broin is happy with that answer. There are a range of other questions and the committee is happy with the response and understands the issue quite fully. Deputy Ó Broin raised other matters.

Ms Fionnughla McLoughlin

I will take the issue of rent increases and explain why we would like to see rent caps increased across the board. As an example, there are 70,000 cases throughout the country currently claiming rent supplement, and it has been mentioned that if rent supplement is increased, there will be 70,000 cases of rent being increased. That is not the case and the legislation was changed last year regarding how often landlords can increase rent. The period has changed to 24 months, which curtails many people. There are 20,000 people in Dublin on rent supplement. The Tenancy Protection Service, TPS, has the ability to get people rent caps above the current rent limits, and 1,914 cases have been taken up through the TPS. Raising rent caps across the board does not automatically mean everybody will get a rent increase but it would be available should the people need it. Rent regulation and rent certainty stops rent spiralling out of control, as the rates are continuing to do. It gives people a security of tenure in order that they can remain in a tenancy.

Mr. David Carroll

I will deal with the length of time in emergency accommodation and the allocations issue. The latest figures indicate that 1,290 people currently in temporary accommodation have been there for more than six months, which indicates the difficulties in moving people on. We have found that the introduction of the housing assistance payment, HAP, has been significant in our ability from an affordability perspective to move people on. However, the availability of suitable housing has been an issue. As a network we are absolutely committed to getting people out of temporary accommodation as soon as possible.

On the allocations issue, there is a recognition that some of the individuals and households that we work with require support to return to the community. Currently, there is not equitable access to social housing stock within the community. Depaul works in Northern Ireland as well where there is a common selection scheme by which each individual household on the waiting list is allocated points, with access given from a priority perspective. It determines the level of support required by these households to return to the community. When we examine the allocation approach, such selection schemes should be considered.

We spoke earlier about Housing First, an internationally recognised model by which individuals with complex needs are supported within their communities. It operates successfully here through Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust. In Belfast we operate a Housing First system. In the past two years we have moved 64 people with the highest needs back to the community. It requires availability of appropriate and affordable accommodation, with a suite of wraparound supports that must be funded, co-ordinated and case-managed in order for the individuals to survive within community settings.

I thank our guests for coming before the committee and giving us that information. They have intimate knowledge of the subject and this comes from working directly with the matters. I compliment them on their obvious knowledge in the area.

The Chairman knows that most of us have been members of local authorities.

My electronic tablet seems to be causing interference with the sound system even though it is not a telephone. It does not receive calls.

That is okay, Deputy. I have noted it for the announcements in future.

Public representatives have, and should have, an equally intimate knowledge of the subject. I am glad that all of us here, without exception, have such knowledge. The witness is absolutely right in identifying the lack of social housing as the problem. Some of us strongly objected to the policy changes that came about approximately 16 years ago. We knew the problem would come home to roost eventually, which is where we are now. It is no harm to repeat that. We can talk forever about the subject but we must return to direct build and return responsibility for local authority housing - I never agreed with the words "social housing" - to the local authorities. That is the only way it can be resolved.

Points were raised about people with particular difficulties, such as vulnerable families perhaps with special needs, addictions and so forth. They are better served by a body or bodies that have specific skills in that area. The local authorities do not have that, and I have always said as much. There is a huge difference in the two requirements.

Sadly, in the middle of the boom there were homeless people in this city and throughout the country. All of us had to deal with it from time to time. The system was unable to deal with it then, and that is the problem. If it was unable to deal with it in the middle of the boom, how could it possibly pretend to deal with it in the aftermath? A question now arises for ourselves. When do we get to a situation where we remove the necessity for emergency housing in so far as possible? There will always be a minimal requirement in that regard but, generally, we must remove it. What we are doing at present is housing people in emergency housing and that should not be the case. We must move away from that. There is also the issue with waiting lists, when a person is on the waiting list and they are on an emergency housing waiting list as well. Eventually one reaches a situation where to get on the emergency waiting list one must go on another waiting list, which is unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is one of the legacies of some of the things I have discussed already.

I compliment the Simon Community for identifying the issue of refitting houses that have been handed back. That happens all over the country. Some local authorities are beginning to discontinue the practice whereby the kitchens were ripped out of perfectly good houses, tossed into skips and replaced with what was originally put into that local authority house. If one were to explain this to somebody outside the group of people here, they would not understand how it happens. However, it happened all the time. The purpose of the exercise allegedly was to ensure the local authority would not have to replace a teak or an oak kitchen or whatever the case may be. The logic of it escapes me, but it is causing a large problem.

I wish to venture into an area that was not covered, the shared ownership loans. The rental equity portion has been a massive burden on the unfortunate people concerned, particularly over the last ten years. A change took place whereby an increase of 4.7% was placed on the rental part of the equity annually. It is an absolute disgrace and makes it impossible for those people. It was a penalty.

Can I interrupt the Deputy? We have representatives of three networks before us. Some of the points he makes are relevant to our deliberations in terms of formulating a report and recommendations. However, I am particularly anxious that specific questions are addressed to the witnesses. In other words, we should elicit the information from our witnesses in public session and then formulate and have our internal debate based on the information we receive.

I am making a general comment-----

I am asking the Deputy to ask a question.

-----that applies to all of them.

The Chairman makes general comments.

Chairman, I suggest that we invite Deputy Durkan to make a submission to the committee some day.

I would be quite happy to do that too. May I continue, Chairman?

No. I would like you to direct questions.

Questions, please.

I have a good idea of what the answers to the questions are, and the people here today have already presented us with what are effectively the questions and the answers.

It is up to us to deal with it after that. The issue of support for the vulnerable was raised by numerous people and it is something that is growing. The problem is that growing numbers of people who previous had difficulty getting a local authority house now find themselves homeless and are on a different list altogether. It comes back to the need to reinvigorate direct build by local authorities and to call them local authority houses. Alongside that, local authority loans must be reintroduced in order to pick off the people who are now on the local authority housing list but who previously were able to provide themselves with a house. They are the young people.

The last point I want to make relates to the people who all three groups have referred to. We find in our work as public representatives that the people we deal with are young people, mostly with families. It is a sad reflection on our society that we have children whose introduction to life is that they do not know where they are going to live tomorrow, or that they know where they are going to live tomorrow and it is in emergency accommodation. That is a sad reflection on all of us. This goes back to before the boom, when it was obvious that these things were going to happen. The point I want to emphasise is that it is essential, just as in preparation for schools, the demography needs to be taken into account, that we identify the housing need, in terms of the number of families coming onstream, the number of children born in a particular year and the number of people likely to be in need of local authority housing or any other type of housing in the ten to 20 years afterwards. I am sorry for going on but that is my take on what I have dealt with in the past ten years.

I thank the Deputy. I am going to take another question and then the witnesses can feel free to comment on what Deputy Durkan has said. Deputy Ryan is next.

I thank the three groups for coming in, sharing their insights with us and making many recommendations. Mr. Dunne opened by referring to the supply issue. Certainly what we have today is a crisis of supply, be it in private houses or social housing. We have a housing strategy in place from the outgoing Government, which is going to deliver some houses in 18 months to two years. Witnesses have talked about preventative measures as well - that we have to prevent people becoming homelessness - but it is the people who are homeless who we need to provide with housing solutions. Have any of the three groups ideas about how to fast-track much-needed supply? We are all agreed on the long-term stuff - that we need to change things. We can look back and say things were not done properly and we are where we are but what we need from groups like those represented by the witnesses are some ideas in terms of how they can help us fast-track those kind of solutions.

One of the first things many of the NGOs say is that we have to increase rent supplement across the board. I do not share that view. As a practitioner who holds eight clinics every week, from Balbriggan to Swords, in areas with a housing crisis, the kind of person who comes into my clinic is somebody who is about to be made homeless and is looking for a place to stay. The problem is that he or she cannot find a place to stay or to rent. Irrespective of the caps, I know that if he or she finds a place, the community welfare officer has the flexibility to go beyond the caps. This has been, and is, happening. That is what I see. I also see situations where people are in accommodation and the landlord wants to put up the rent and I know the community welfare officer will have the flexibility to meet that increased demand. Where the need for increased rent supplement exists, it is supplied, so why in the name of God would we increase the rent caps for the other 70,000 people for whom there is no pressure to put them up? That would not be a great use of resources.

Mr. Declan Dunne

I might address one or two of those points before letting others jump in. The two things that come to mind with regard to fast-track supply are acquisition and rapid building. I agree that we cannot have a thriving economy without having a functioning housing market. The state of the overall housing market has all kinds of impacts. For example, companies like Google are having to pay more to their employees in order that they can rent accommodation in Dublin. Public or social housing is a subset within the bigger bubble that is overall housing supply. The homeless factor comes below that, with the private renter in between. The movement between all of these linked factors is causing all sorts of difficulties. As a result, we are continuing with emergency accommodation that none of us wants to see in this day and age. We never wanted to see it.

I was asked about the approach that should be taken to fast-track supply. The nature of our planning and building system is that development takes a remarkable amount of time. Many of our organisations are approved bodies that are involved in the construction and supply of housing units. Between two and a half and three years can pass from the initial identification of a site to the actual delivery of housing supply. It is no different for local authorities. There is an urgent need for supply in the interim while all of that is being moved forward and while policy decisions on local authority housing are being made here and in the Dáil.

The first of the two routes that appear to be available is acquisition by local authorities and approved housing bodies. This is something that could move relatively quickly. When rapid-build housing, which is the second available route, was first mooted, many people reflected on whether such an approach was desirable. They expressed concern about the quality of the housing and whether we were entering into a two-tier system of good quality housing and very shoddy housing. I am happy to say that as things have moved on in this regard, it seems we are talking about faster built housing rather than poor quality housing. My understanding is that the current tender that has been issued in the Dublin region is for housing that is guaranteed to last a minimum of 60 years. The housing supplied in the Poppintree area of Ballymun appears to be of a very high standard. I know Depaul Ireland is involved in supporting that project. My own organisation, the Sophia Housing Association, is involved in supporting another scheme that is coming. I believe the targets we are setting are way below the pressing need that exists. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has highlighted that many millions of euro are being spent on hotel accommodation at the moment. I suggest that we accelerate acquisition as an interim emergency measure and that we also accelerate both the planning and construction elements of rapid building.

Would anybody like to address specifically the second question that was asked?

Ms Fiona Barry

Could I speak briefly about the rapid-build programme?

Ms Fiona Barry

We raised the issue of tenure type in our wider submission to the committee. The schemes that are being built under the rapid-build programme at present are still deemed to be emergency accommodation. I suggest that the reality of the quality of the build means that a review of the tenure type might be in order at this point as well.

Deputy Ryan also referred to the proposal to increase rent allowance. Would anybody care to comment on that?

Mr. Aaron O'Connell

One of the things I would say in response to the Deputy is that not everybody would be looking for the increase at the same time. It would not be true to suggest that everybody would be involved in a way that would lead to a simultaneous spend. In the short term, it would hold people where they are. I think that is the important thing. The other thing to emphasise is that those who are working on the ground with people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness know people in the relevant category and therefore need to have the discretion to increase this payment where they can. There is a difficulty in certain areas even when discretion is available. We mentioned in our submission an example in which the only available accommodation for a single person in Cork cost €925.

Even if the €485 payment that is currently available were topped up by 20%, the gap would not be bridged. This issue needs to be addressed.

In my experience, community welfare officers have flexibility in this regard and they are delivering such flexibility. Is that not the case all over the country?

Ms Fiona Barry


Why not? The same system operates nationwide.

We invited organisations from different parts of the country in order that we could specifically address that issue.

Mr. Aaron O'Connell

An increase of 20% was piloted in Dublin and subsequently introduced in the regions more recently. The difficulty is that other factors are outpacing these measures, some of which are coming too late. There is a difference and staff in the services are almost afraid to take the initiative. Action is taken almost on a case by case basis when it must be taken in response to need. People need to have the authority to respond, which is not always the case.

Action is supposed to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Aaron O'Connell

The difficulty is that not all cases are the same. Rental costs in some areas are beyond what the services have the discretion to pay. These gaps need to be addressed.

My first question is to Ms Barry and relates to Brú Aimsir. What can be done to ensure the closure of this facility is not repeated elsewhere? I am aware of other hostels that are due to close. Such closures cause additional stress and anxiety to those who use hostels. How can this be prevented? These facilities are described as cold weather accommodation. The weather here is such that we may have hot weather in winter and cold weather in summer. For this reason, the current approach does not make sense. As long as people need beds, there is no reason to close this type of accommodation. What is Ms Barry's opinion on the matter?

The staff working in these facilities are under severe pressure. I am in contact with staff in Parkgate Street almost several times a day and it is obvious that more staff are needed. Perhaps the witnesses would like to comment. We do not have sufficient resources, including social workers and other staff, to support those who are working with homeless people, many of whom have additional needs. I refer in particular to homeless people who are presenting with mental health and addiction issues. When prisoners end up homeless after release the cycle continues.

Is there much movement of homeless people out of hotels? Perhaps the witnesses have figures in that regard.

Concerns have been raised that foreign nationals who present as homeless are being diverted to social protection, with the result that figures on the number of homeless persons were not accurate. Have these concerns been addressed?

On the chain of command that applies to the organisations before us, to whom are they directly accountable?

If cold weather accommodation was referred to as wet weather accommodation, it would have to be open for 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. I ask Ms Barry to respond to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's questions.

Ms Fiona Barry

Our experience in recent years has been that, as a result of the numbers of people coming into homeless services, cold weather facilities have not closed. Crosscare has been involved in a number of cold weather initiatives that subsequently became emergency facilities before reverting to cold weather facilities. Over time, owing to the numbers in the system, these facilities turned into supported temporary accommodation in which we were able to work actively with people to exit homelessness services.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan was probably referring to the John's Lane West facility. This is a slightly different case in that while the accommodation was opened as a cold weather facility, I am aware that there is a planning application on the building in question. While I cannot speak for the organisations involved, as long as the individuals who are staying in the service are provided with additional emergency accommodation, it will be good that the plot of land in question will be used to provide housing for people who are experiencing homelessness.

Again, it is a slightly different point. My point is about the quantity of quality emergency accommodation required. I would assume that at the beginning of the cold weather initiative there was hope that 101 people would move through the system and that the numbers coming in would not be as significant as they are. As I mentioned earlier, we have moved almost 200 people through that facility. If it was set up to move 101 people out, the fact that it has doubled that number is an achievement. The difficulty is the influx. On where we are now, as I pointed out earlier, the difficulty is in respect of who has the authority to sign off in terms of the use of the premises. If it was not to happen again, obviously there is a need for more security in regard to the term of the lease. Given that it is a State-owned facility, I would have assumed that the two Departments would talk to each other and the issue would be resolved. It seems unusual that one Department would contribute to the numbers of rough sleepers and that another Department would try to solve the issue. I do not know if what I have said answers that aspect of the question.

Staffing and social workers were mentioned. We work with people who have complex mental health and medical issues right across the sector, particularly those who are in services for a longer period. They are in services for longer because they are becoming the less visible. The families and those who are newly homeless are able to move out of services quicker while those with more complex needs are stuck in services. I speak on behalf of those services that I know in Dublin where there are trained workers who work on assessments. There is a full pathways-to-home model in which all staff are trained in terms of providing holistic needs assessments and an absolute focus on exits to homelessness. Where we all need additional resources is in terms of mental health workers because the mental health impact on people who are experiencing homelessness is very intense. Given that they have their homes, there is that whole sense of grief and bereavement around losing their home and isolation and loss of their community. We see a significant number of people who are in contact with our homeless services taking their own lives.

While I cannot speak for other organisations, Crosscare has seen a significant number of medical discharges directly into homelessness. While there is a plan to implement a national discharge policy, it has not been rolled out. It is still on the Dublin Region Homeless Executive's plan for implementation this year but I am aware there have been difficulties in trying to role out that plan. Sometimes even talking about cases brings the issue home. We have heard unbelievable stories about people being discharged from hospital. One of our services in Crosscare had a woman who was discharged who was told she was going to die within a couple of weeks. She came into our services with no palliative care. We had no information around how she was going to die and our staff team found her dead. That is the fourth medical death we have had from a hospital discharge since Christmas. In terms of that policy from the HSE and the point I made earlier about restoration of funding levels for the executive, specifically focusing on homeless services is absolutely paramount. While our staff are trained in assessment and working with people out of homes - some services to a greater or lesser extent have medical staff - we do not have medical staff on our teams 24 hours a day. Given that the people with whom we are working have complex addiction issues and mental health issues, we really require that right across the sector.

I might allow someone else contribute at this point but I may be able to come back in again later in respect of the question on foreign nationals.

Mr. Carroll has indicated.

Mr. David Carroll

On the issue of pressure on staff, a number of factors can help staff deal with vulnerabilities. This picks up on Ms Barry's comments in regard to health issues. If health budgets were restored to 2010 levels, this would allow us to invest in primary care interventions for the most vulnerable people and would have a significant effect on our ability to cope. It would help specifically with chronic mental health issues, physical health issues requiring access to district nursing and fast-tracking into methadone beds in order to stabilise drug use.

We are aware the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, has been working its socks off in order to deal with the huge influx of homeless people who have come its way. The sheer number of people who have become homeless has been overwhelming for everybody. Now we need to take a step back and take a two to three year planning approach. We need to look at our projections over the next three years regarding the amount of temporary accommodation available to us and an interdepartmental approach must be taken towards providing the facilities and land for the provision of temporary accommodation.

The figures were provided earlier. Some 102 people are currently rough sleeping and 90 people were turned away last night on the freephone service and there are potentially 100 more to add to that. Based on what has happened in the past year, we need to be able to predict how many families and single people are likely to come into the system over the next two years, until housing supply can catch up. It is important we look strategically at what temporary accommodation is needed in the next two to three years.

Mr. Aaron O'Connell

On the issue of complex needs, most people would agree that emergency accommodation is in no way suitable for somebody with complex needs. Emergency accommodation should be for the shortest possible time. It is important in terms of the Housing First approach that where possible, we normalise housing offers to people as much as possible. Some people will require round the clock care, and that should be catered for, but high support emergency accommodation is not a normal place for most people. Fractious behaviour in such an environment is exacerbated because there are people from 18 to 80 with a range of different complex needs all under the same roof. Discharge from hospitals to accommodation like this is not appropriate either. In some cases, there is no choice but people should be moved on as quickly as possible.

We work through the HSE's adult homeless integrated team which supports hostels in terms of psychiatric support through community psychiatric nurses, a consultant psychologist and so forth. This approach helps enormously in terms of allowing staff to manage some situations regarding people with complex needs. Part of the approach is training for staff. We must recognise the nature of the issues people present with and must train our staff to be able to assess risk so as to promote inclusion rather than exclusion. The better trained one's staff, the better able and more confident they will be in dealing with people with challenging issues.

The key to dealing with these people is to move them on as quickly as possible. However, the difficulty is that those with complex needs tend to be those who are hardest to house. All the more reason to try to get them housed as quickly as possible is the fact that they take up a disproportionate amount of bed nights in emergency shelters, which compounds the problem of rough sleeping and access to beds as a result.

Mr. Declan Dunne

On the question on accountability, my organisation has experience from all around the country. However, I will begin with the Dublin region. We have a fortunate arrangement in Dublin whereby the four local authorities collaborate with each other and the HSE through one structure, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, through which funding is scheduled.

Multi-annual plans for all of the homeless needs in the four Dublin authorities go through that and are debated. There is a consultative forum and other government agencies feed into the development of that plan. When the plan is developed, the DRHE then seeks specialist agencies to whom various pieces of work can be contracted. Organisations might seem as if they are all in the same business but, effectively, they are not. There is a huge range of specialisation, some of which members will be aware. I will not mention them by name but some are specifically involved in alcohol services, in addiction services and in services which specialise in very complex needs. Some services are low threshold services, some specialise in young people and some services are purely preventative. There are services for single people and there are some for families. Other services are specifically for people leaving care or people leaving the criminal justice system. Some services are specifically about domestic violence, mental health or physical disability. Therefore, in the development of that plan, the DRHE would look to see what competencies are there and would look to find a suitable provider in relation to that.

The funder of the services is principally the local authorities and the HSE. Service level agreements are drawn up between the individual organisation and the funder. These contracts are very detailed and comprise two parts to meet all statutory requirements, of which there is a very wide range. There are also specific targets around the provision of services, the outputs and the outcomes for that particular service. This is reviewed on a quarterly basis with each provider. There is submission of all the information back to the individual funder with regard to that service provision.

In addition to that, the State is funding the provision of housing in different parts of the country. That now comes within the Department of Housing and is also linked to the local authority. Therefore, where there is a need for housing in a particular county, which might come under a funding scheme like the capital assistance, CAS, scheme, applications are submitted to the local authority. The local authority reviews the applications and considers them against the existing housing list and needs in that area. It prioritises and marks the applications based on those needs. Those submissions go to the Department of Housing which then selects which ones to proceed with. An individual organisation would be approved and would then enter into detailed contracts with the Department of Housing, or it would not be approved. The Housing Agency is the regulatory authority which controls the work of approved housing bodies. It has set codes of governance and financial regulation and we are required to report under all of those headings as well as to the Charities Regulatory Authority and its code of governance, etc. There is a real willingness and an interest in involving ourselves in all of those levels of accountability as well as in respect of our own boards to whom, as employees, we are directly responsible.

Ms Tríona O'Connor

With regard to comments made by Mr. O'Connell about working with people who are vulnerable, and picking up on points raised by Deputies Ryan and Ó Broin around the different lengths of stay in emergency accommodation, from our perspective in the mid-west region, of the 227 people who were in Limerick and Clare hostels last year, only 11% went on to private rental and local authority housing. It must be asked where are the rest of those people going. They staying in hostels much longer because of the chronic need.

Reference was made to the homeless budget and I believe there was a question on how much we think we need. The European Observatory on Homelessness states that it costs €29,000 per year to keep one person in emergency accommodation. Deputy Ryan asked what are the solutions. For us it is about acquisition, as referred to by Mr. Declan Dunne. We have been in this process in Limerick. Focus Ireland was awarded the highest allocation of CAS properties in the country last year, with an allocation of 44 units of accommodation. Hallelujah. We were delighted. It turned out to be 17 houses because each unit is considered a bedroom, so it was not hallelujah anymore. We still have not delivered on those CAS properties because of bureaucracy. It has taken 12 months, in a serious housing crisis, to deliver on that. As a specific solution, we have come up with the social rental model as an option.

As I said, it costs €29,000 per year to keep one person in emergency accommodation. For €20,000, we have moved ten families out of such accommodation. This started in Cork as a pilot project between the different voluntary organisations and it moved to Limerick. We were lucky to be funded by the local authority, which saw merit in a pilot we proposed. Basically, we go in as the tenant. We rent from the landlord directly and then we sublet. It is not rocket science. We are able to manage the different needs the family would present with, because there is a worker dedicated to that household. As Ms Fiona Barry stated, the chronic issues people present with need to be managed, but they can be managed from their homes. We now have an extension of the funding and are looking at housing 18 families between Limerick and Clare over the next 12 months, which is fantastic.

There is a difference between rural and urban issues. There is a recognition that there is a homelessness crisis outside of Dublin as well, which is something we feel very strongly about. I am sure Mr. Aaron O'Connell will agree with me on that. When we, as in our alliances, meet we talk about that a lot. Our numbers are not the same - they are not as high - but there is still a significant number of people in emergency accommodation. These are families and children whom it is affecting. On that point, there are different needs throughout the country when it comes to urban and rural. What one finds in the rural areas is that people need to come into the urban towns. People need to come in from parts of County Clare such as Kilrush or Kilkee into Ennis. Ennis only has a 12-bed hostel. It has nothing else to provide them with.

The other aspect following on from that is domestic violence, which is a huge issue when it comes to what we discuss in the Limerick and Clare Homeless Alliance. In Limerick and Clare last year, in 2015, 297 families were turned away from the refuges in the region - ADAPT House and Clare Haven Services - because there is a lack of beds. Domestic violence is a huge issue affecting families in rural areas, yet it is not counted in the statistics as homelessness. That is because of the different funding streams. Domestic violence services are funded by Tusla and, therefore, are not counted in our statistics when we are presenting on homeless families. This is something we wanted to highlight as it is definitely an issue we face in rural areas.

I will make a final point on the housing assistance payment, HAP. I do not know the situation in Cork but we are finding that landlords are not signing up to the HAP scheme. There is too much bureaucracy. There is added bureaucracy with the HAP that was not there before. Yes, it is a solution but it is something that is not being taken up by landlords because of all the different forms, etc., they have to hand in. That is something we are concerned about.

Before I go back, Ms Barry-----

Ms Fiona Barry

There were two other questions I felt I was able to come back to Deputy O'Sullivan on. One related to the number of families out of homelessness. Unfortunately, I did not bring that with me. However, I can tell her the number of singles, which was 413 in the first quarter of this year in Dublin. The Dublin Region Homelessness Executive compiles a great set of statistics on its website illustrating the trends in and out of homeless services and the tenancies created.

I wish to return to the issue raised about foreign nationals. For me there are a number of issues although I am not an expert on this area. I have colleagues in Crosscare who are much more familiar with this issue but there are a number of aspects to it. First, I wish to highlight the issue of those in direct provision who have achieved refugee status, that is, those who now have status to live in the country. In some ways, we have not counted those individuals, who will require housing, in the numbers for the housing build and allocations going forward. Those individuals are also given a timeframe to access the private rented sector. However, some of those individuals also start accessing homeless services. They have their status and they are entitled to be here. I am not an expert on it, but it is a significant issue in terms of those in direct provision.

Foreign nationals were mentioned. I know I drive my colleagues on the Dublin network demented when I keep coming back to the "ineligible" issue, although I think Mr. David Carroll agrees with me on this one. There is a difference between those who we call eligible for placement - those six-month placements where one can do a full assessment and assess people to exit homelessness - and others. However, the issue of people being eligible for those placements is much broader than whether one is a foreign national.

Therefore, if a person is from Cork and she comes to Dublin, she is not eligible for a long-term placement. Instead, she stays in a one night only system. If we cannot get hold of a person because she is going through that one night only system, she does not then get assessed. She is in the emergency system or potentially sleeping rough but she is not eligible for longer-term placement. That category also includes returning Irish and internal migrants as well as many migrants who potentially cannot establish the fact that they have lived in Dublin. Such people may have sublet or may have been in house-sharing arrangements. They may have worked here for a substantial length, even for many years during the boom, but it may have been work on the black market for cash in hand and therefore they cannot establish their history. Some also have significant language difficulties when it comes to being able to access services.

We have people who are out of status. We have a significant document which I would be more than happy to send through to the committee. It covers all the categories of status and those we deem ineligible for placement. The issues in respect of all the categories are rather different in terms of their pathway out of homelessness. We also have the new communities unit. Again, I am not an expert in answering queries on that work. Perhaps Mr. Carroll might be able to answer more thoroughly but my understanding is that some of those individuals are counted on PASS while some are not. Therefore, we have a cohort of people who are also placed by the new communities unit in private emergency accommodation with no supports on site. That is another category. All the people in that category are probably rather hidden in terms of the extent of the problem.

Mr. David Carroll

Deputy O'Sullivan asked about the issue of hotels. Obviously, we are all aware of the impact these arrangements have on individual families. We provide an inreach service into one of the hotels in Ballymun. Focus Ireland and other organisations do likewise. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive is providing funding for a case-managed approach for those families. Our experience is that for the majority of people it is a supply issue. Some of those involved have complex and vulnerable needs but most of them have housing needs. In this interim situation, rapid-build housing is key to enable us to create enough temporary accommodation to provide an alternative to hotels. However, while people are in the hotel situation, the type of support they get is critical to ensure the children go to school in their locality, that they are feeding in to community interventions and that children are receiving proper nutritious meals rather than takeaway meals. Such interventions for this existing cohort are critical as part of a co-ordinated strategic approach being taken by the DRHE at the moment in partnership with other community interventions.

Since it is getting late in the afternoon, I am going to take contributions from the remaining members. Then I will afford the opportunity for a reply to any questions.

I will be brief because some of my questions have already been raised and answered and I have no wish to repeat them. There are two points. Ms O'Connor referred to the fact that 11% of people in emergency accommodation had gone into private accommodation. What is happening there is a problem. Having listened to Ms O'Connor, it is clearly very complex. I note Mr. O'Connell said we need to simplify things. I will not ask Mr. O'Connell to go through it now but I would appreciate if he came back on his own in a week or so with some suggestions on how we can simplify the housing assistance payment or any other system we use. Sometimes we create processes and box-ticking exercises but we do not actually get things done. I take on board what he has said and I agree wholeheartedly that we need to get the emergency sorted out.

Mr. O'Connell suggested that we need to increase the number of rapid-build options. I believe such options should be for permanent housing as opposed to temporary housing, and we need to increase the number of acquisitions as well. There may be a problem with this if the acquisitions are not be available when we need them. I agree with the point made in that regard.

Deputy Ó Broin referred to the closing of some of the emergency situations.

We would perhaps need a rapid increase in the number of bed units or whatever for the homeless. It is complex and I compliment the witnesses on their work but we need to simplify the process and get the avenues opened up more quickly. I would appreciate if they could give us some suggestions on that, collectively or individually.

I welcome Ms O’Connor’s comment that this problem is not only based in Dublin but is rural and urban. I come from Waterford which is urban and rural. NAMA was here this morning. It is going to provide 20,000 houses by 2020. What concerned me is that 93% of these houses will be in the greater Dublin area and 7% in the rest of the country. In 2020 will the problem be pushed down the country?

Mr. O’Connell said the voids are not being turned over fast enough. Can he comment on the fact that last year in Waterford, 46% of the offers made by the local authority were turned down? I believe the figures are quite high in Cork too. Choice-based letting has come up a few times at this committee. This works quite well in Cork and Dublin and it might be worth looking into whether it could be rolled out throughout the country.

I agree with much of what the witnesses say, particularly about landlords not taking up the housing assistance, HAP, scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and every other scheme. They have no interest. They will make up any excuse in the book and avoid it as much as possible. These are some of the best submissions we have got from any housing organisations because they deal with real recommendations and there is nothing in them that cannot be implemented. It goes back to the will to do it and that is a job for this committee.

The issue of women at risk of domestic violence is very important. In Kilkenny there are three homeless facilities, one of which is a hotel. They are always full and have waiting lists. It is not as bad as in Dublin and other big cities but many women present after domestic violence. They will not take up places that are offered in Clonmel or Waterford because they would have to go out of the school region or the family setting. They fall into nowhere land. It takes a lot to leave a situation where there is domestic violence. This is the first time these problems have been raised at this committee, like that of people under 26. Many are encouraged to stay at home but it is not always as simple as that because some are couples who might have a child. It is very complex but the solutions are quite straightforward.

I would be interested in hearing more detail about the compulsory purchase order, CPO, on vacant properties in Cork. It came up a few times and when the Minister was here, he said there is an issue around private property rights but we need to consider it because there are so many vacant units. If we could use CPOs to get them through some fast-track mechanism and turn them around, it would be a short and long-term solution because they would come up much faster than houses we start to build now. If the witnesses do not have the information to hand, maybe they could send it on to show how that would work. Does it include vacant units as well as derelict sites? Everybody here would know of places in their home towns that nobody seems to have lived in. They have been vacant for years.

NAMA told us this morning that in Cork city, of 500 units, 309 were confirmed for demand but only 285 were delivered. In Limerick, NAMA identified 145 and 55 were confirmed but only 16 were delivered.

There seems to be something wrong with the local authorities as regards placing people in certain areas. It came up this morning that some of them were not suitable for different areas. Maybe that is something we could go back to NAMA on. It is happening in Dublin as well.

Regarding people who are sick with long-term illnesses and are homeless, something definitely needs to be done about bringing them into a nursing home situation. It is very wrong for anybody to have to spend the last moments of his or her life in a hostel. The committee should look at this as part of its overall brief.

I am very familiar with Brú Aimsir - it is in the Digital Hub. Although the committee's role is not to intervene in these things, we should not be closing hostels when they are needed and are giving a service. I would be in favour of pursuing the matter with Dublin City Council and arguing that this hostel should be left open until something else is provided in its place. I am familiar with the demand for it.

Would many of the homeless people accessing Crosscare link in with the Merchant's Quay project, which has doctors, nurses and dentists and all that? I think the Merchant's Quay project is a really good model.

Just to say to Deputy Byrne that it would not be a question of interfering. It is quite within the remit of this committee to make that recommendation.

If we could, I think we should. It is really crucial at the moment.

It is not interfering. You are quite entitled to make the recommendation.

I was very impressed by what the witnesses said. The Government policy is to have, I think, 75,000 families or individuals helped through housing assistance payments and so on by 2020. That is a huge challenge and, from what the witnesses have said, it is not being met in any respect. It is probably more an issue for the Government than for this committee. One answer might be to incentivise landlords through tax. In other words, some part of their mortgage debt or whatever could be written off provided they gave a tenancy for five years to the local authority. The tax advantage could be tied into the length of the lease or the term of the occupation. We have an awful lot of work to do on that. It is the most significant aspect of housing policy as I look at it today.

I have been in public life and dealing with housing for a long time. It has never been as bad in terms of numbers. The biggest difficulty I see at the moment is how those looking for housing are treated by the system. The local authorities are overrun. In my county they are top class but they do not have the space or time to give to individuals. Section 10 of the witnesses' presentation proposes greater supports. Would it make sense for people outside local authorities to act as advocates for applicants? All of the issues an applicant might need to present to the local authority could, if the applicant chose to do so, go through the advocate. There would be a professional, full-time, staffed office separate from the local authority. It would deal not with the physical housing need, but with all of the other issues, whether they be medical, social or family-related.

One of the categories that has cost me the most thought is that of men who are separated, in their 40s or 50s, who may have significant alcohol or personality problems. They are thrown on the scrap heap of life. While many of them will find a bed when they are not drinking, when they are drinking they are on the street. We need to look at that. Part of the problem is that they are on the housing list longer than anybody else. Because they may have no children or just one child, they are down the list of priority and are told "Sorry, we do not have a two bedroom house". There is a whole load of issues there. Perhaps when they go back, in their wisdom, the witnesses could help us formulate a new way of treating people. What is fundamental is the humanity, the human being, in all of our works, whatever they are. The goodness of those men - everything that they are - is lost at the moment, because nobody has time to listen or the skills to articulate the problem.

There is nowhere they can go to sort out all their other issues, which are huge, and housing is only part of that.

Members asked a range of questions and I will give each witness an opportunity to respond to those that are relevant to their areas. With particular reference to Deputy Canney's contribution, if there is further information the witnesses believe would be relevant to this committee, it should be forwarded to us but within a very short timeframe. The committee will have finalised its report in a month; we are working rapidly on this process. That concludes the questions. I will start this time by calling the witnesses on the far side of the table.

Ms Tríona O'Connor

We are sitting here talking about people. Mr. Dunne and I were talking outside the room and we agreed we can get lost in the politics and bureaucracy in terms of the issues but we are talking about people's lives. I have been working in homeless services since 2000 and in terms of all the people I have met in that time, all they want is a home. They want a place they can call their own and it is our job to get them that. That is why we are here. All the staff I work with work tirelessly for that to happen. Some cases take longer than others. Some people have many more issues than others, but that is the crux of it. When I made my submission earlier I think I rushed through a number of points to have them said, but I appreciate being here in my role and the fact that I have been given an opportunity to speak on behalf of the clients with whom I work. That is what we must remember. That is why we are all here, and that is why the members are here.

It was said earlier that we need to simplify the process. The solutions are available; we just need to work to make them happen sooner rather than later. As an alliance, what came up when we met to discuss this meeting was that we can get caught up in bureaucracy in terms of an issue and it takes much longer than necessary for solutions to be found. There are solutions. All of us have put forward solutions that can happen rapidly. There are longer-term issues that must be dealt with, and they will be dealt with.

We welcome the opportunity to present to the committee and appreciate the time the members have given us.

Mr. Aaron O'Connell

On the point about the voids and the offers made, we said at the social housing forum that there should be more research done into the reasons people are refusing housing. The expectations might be too high in some cases but in many cases it depends on the location. The difficulty for some people is that they need to be close to their support networks for them to be able to manage, particularly in terms of the crisis we have endured over many years. The one thing that has kept some families together was their support networks. Those who did not have those support networks fell into homelessness, were on the verge of homelessness or dealing with very stressful circumstances. There is not one answer to those questions but we need to focus on the whys and the wherefores. More research needs to be done on that but networks are important.

People's income is important as well because someone either has transport or they do not. Some of the issues raised were about people on low incomes who were unable to take up the options NAMA provided gave across the country, which were outside transport networks. That is a determinant as to whether somebody will take up an offer.

In terms of those under the age of 26, we are treating them as if they were less equal than others, and that is wrong. There must be equality in terms of the offers made and people should not be treated differently because they are young. That is exclusionary and it must be dealt with. Those young people have no chance of moving out, even if options were available, because they do not have the money to do it. They are being discriminated against at that level, and a major question arises in that regard.

In terms of the choice-based lettings, in some of the more recent cases in Cork there were no offers under choice-based lettings because there was nothing to offer. There are issues around that, and that is part of the problem. It is a question of whether there is a choice and what are those choices. The reality, whether to do with local authority housing or otherwise, is that there are no choices because there is nothing available. That is the problem.

We acquired land by way of compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, for roads and so on in the past. Circumstances are challenging for everybody.

We need to get off the fence in terms of what it is. There is a challenge around people's rights of possession of housing and so forth. They are things that can be overcome for the greater common need. I believe we need to look at it in those circumstances. Where something is not being used, it should be brought into play wherever it can be. Not everything will be suitable. The areas that people are in or the areas available may not be suitable for a particular category, such as in the case of transport. Those things are really important: bus routes, local community facilities, pharmacies, GPs, health centres and so forth.

When talking about families and the new builds - whether they are rapid or otherwise - we must be very clear. Families need to be able to get their children to school. We must not ghettoise people. We must stabilise people's situations. Wherever we can, we should not disrupt people in terms of movement because that has a particularly negative impact on children. Where possible, we must normalise what we can do and keep people as close as possible to their existing networks.

The problem of empty units is a difficult one. There is a clash around the issue of people's rights, but we have to overcome those obstacles. In terms of using a CPO, if somebody is not using a unit, in many respects it is a case of having the right offer. There are challenges around being able to do it, but it is a mechanism that is there and we should look at it.

The Part VIII will speed up the process so that one does not have to go through everything. It is not something we would normally advocate because, as a community organisation and people who work in the community, it is important that we bring the community with us. However, we are in very challenging times now. Everybody must become part of the solution. The task of communities around the country is to accept people into their communities and to become part of the solution as opposed to putting more obstacles in the way.

Ms Fiona Barry

I would love to be sitting here thinking we did not need emergency accommodation. Previous speakers have done a great job of bringing it back to the people we serve and provide services for. I would like to thank the committee for their support of Brú Aimsir and of emergency accommodation on behalf of the residents of that service, those who are sleeping rough tonight and the 58 people who could have been in those beds last night and tonight. I really appreciate the support on their behalf.

I am not sure it is Dublin City Council that the committee needs to pursue to intervene at this stage. My understanding is that it is probably a conversation that needs to happen between the two Ministers at this point. I particularly appreciate Deputy Catherine Byrne's support, given that we are in her constituency. I am delighted that she has not been ringing me for any other reasons because the support and feedback we have received from her local community have been second to none.

There was a question about the links with Merchant's Quay and the medical facilities there. The experience is that people tend to move around services, but it is a particular niche group that attends Merchant's Quay. Obviously, many people do not have addiction issues and do not want to access services there. We have also seen a massive increase in people accessing our services in wheelchairs. That provides a real difficulty in terms of access to services.

We need to provide medical services on site. Sometimes people cannot leave their room or leave the facility to access medical services due to their mental health. We have great support from Safetynet for Brú Aimsir and our other emergency facilities through the provision of medical facilities on site. Unfortunately, what it can provide is very limited. As a matter of priority, I ask that the HSE hospital discharge policy be implemented as soon as possible, because we need to stop people from being discharged into homeless services.

I want to return to the issue of vacant properties. From a personal perspective, last year I had the unfortunate task of applying for the fair deal scheme on behalf of my mother, who has since passed away.

There is an absolute disincentive within the fair deal scheme to rent out a property. If my mother was in a nursing home the property would have been vacant to this day. We need to look at the question of a disincentive under the fair deal scheme to rent out vacant properties when people are in nursing homes. A lot of properties in this category are probably vacant.

A group of residents, known to our services, made their own submission to the committee yesterday. They are very anxious for their voices to be heard and they would relish the opportunity to come before the committee. I am sure other organisations have also made submissions.

Ms Fionnughla McLoughlin

I will make a few points on simplifying solutions, in particular the HAP. For landlords the paperwork is a deterrent to HAP but the idea of an NCT for houses should be kept because if accommodation is too easy to get it is usually not of a great standard and nobody should be living in such a property.

Tax incentives for landlords were proposed. When I started working in the access housing unit within the service I used to find accommodation for people living in homeless services and landlords used to ring to offer accommodation because they wanted to give something back and to do something good. That is no longer the case. They have had such a hard time with the administrative aspects of rent supplement over the years, and with rent being stopped because of tenants not returning paperwork, that they have turned their back on rent supplement. In a lot of cases they look at HAP along the same lines, the only positive thing being that they get HAP paid to them in full every month, something for which we have been fighting for years. The incentives have to be there to attract landlords back into the market.

The five-year leasing scheme, with local authority tax incentives, would be very welcome, as would powers for the local authority to advocate on people's behalf. People are overloaded with work at the moment and local authorities do not have the time to help individuals.

I will leave Mr. Dunne, as chair, until last.

Mr. David Carroll

I wish to underline the issue of health. Not only is Brú Aimsir in Deputy Catherine Byrne's constituency, there is a lot of temporary accommodation there as well. Deputy Byrne will know of the work that goes on and the support there is within the community and she has been second to none in her support for the most vulnerable people in society. The health funding models exist to enable us to intervene with people. The Deputy will know of Sundial House where there are 30 people with the most complex needs and we need additional health resources for them. Brú Aimsir also needs additional health resources and the capacity to intervene directly on site. Health intervention is critical.

On the wider point of NAMA, even if this was to come through, where would the houses be? The issue is simple. We have enough data to be able to assess how many homes we need, where they are to be, what type of housing we need and what support we need to give households so that they can sustain themselves.

Mr. Declan Dunne

I thank the Chairman and Members of the Oireachtas for inviting us here today, listening to us and assisting us in so many ways. This committee is focused on two things - housing and homelessness. For housing, there are three words: "supply", "supply", "supply".

In terms of homelessness, I put it to the committee that it is a symptom of something else. From my work experience in Sophia, more than half of the people we support come with a history of the care system, and I believe the experience has been similar for the other representatives. What does that mean? If people have come through that situation, they have not benefited from having parents available to support them, both in terms of care and the boundaries that they need. I am a parent of two adult boys and we loved and cared for them, but we also created some boundaries because they needed those to be able to operate successfully in life.

Many of those in these services that the State is paying for are providing homes for people but they are also providing support for people to engage effectively with society. It is not their fault that the people did not benefit in that way when they were young. The professional staff we have, most of whom have level 8 qualifications and master's degrees and are working for very little money on fixed pay, are working to teach people those skills to be able to be constructive participants in society. I strongly believe that the effectiveness and efficiency of this investment is bringing back more than the provision of housing to people in this situation. It is helping with respect to all those other costs in the criminal justice system and in all the other systems that exist in the country. I thank the committee for continuing to do that. It is very worthwhile and it is appropriate in this, the centenary year of 1916, that focus and attention is being given to this issue.

I thank Mr. Dunne. I also thank the representatives of the Dublin Homeless Network, the Limerick and Clare Homeless Alliance and the Cork Social Housing Forum for appearing here this afternoon. I thank them for their presentations and the frank and direct answers they gave us. I speak on my own behalf and on behalf of the members. We are very conscious that they are here not only in their own right, but that myriad organisations are represented by them. We, as public representatives and in my case as a former Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, have met many of the organisations and we genuinely appreciate the work and the commitment we have seen.

All members of this committee have seen the work that their associated bodies and organisations do and it is very much appreciated. If there is any further information on foot of anything that arose at the meeting, the clock is ticking and we would like to see it soon. I thank the representatives very much for their participation today and the supporting documentation we received. It is much appreciated. That concludes today's meeting.

The committee adjourned at 4.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 May 2016.