That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Housing Act 1988 to update the definition of "homelessness", to include prevention of homelessness within its remit, and to facilitate local authorities to harness skills from other sectors in order to more effectively meet the needs of a preventative homeless strategy.
I introduce the Housing (Homeless Prevention) Bill 2014 as it has been obvious for quite some time that there is a crisis in housing in local authority areas and in the private rented sector. Increasing numbers of people are becoming homeless and there has been a change in the nature of homelessness from the stereotypical homeless person who is out on the street due to addiction issues or anti-social behaviour. Now families are becoming homeless, including people who in normal circumstances, as in pre-Celtic-tiger Ireland, would never have become homeless. Regardless of the circumstances behind it, if a person or family becomes homeless, it is a nightmare situation for them emotionally and psychologically. On a purely financial level, it places a massive strain on authorities to access accommodation at a time when housing stock is not sufficient to meet the demand. Hence, there has been a need to use hotels and bed-and-breakfast facilities, which are particularly unsuitable for families.
There have been a number of reports and strategies, including the 2002 preventative strategy, the 2007 strategy entitled Key to the Door, the 2008 strategy entitled, The Way Home, the Homeless Agency's comprehensive strategy to prevent homelessness 2005-2010, and the Government's target of ensuring the end of long-term homelessness by 2016. All of those acknowledge the importance of housing advice, advocacy and tenancy support in relation to preventing homelessness, but it is widely acknowledged by agencies and Departments dealing with the issue that section 10 of the Housing Act 1988, which governs the scope of the remit of local authorities to meet the needs of those who are experiencing homelessness, is now out of date. In particular, the drafting of the 1988 Act focuses exclusively on people who have already become homeless and does not reflect the increasing priority given to preventative measures in Government policy. According to the most recent statistics, 45 families became homeless in Dublin alone in September in spite of the tenancy sustainment protocol that is active in the area. In total, 380 families, including 828 children, were homeless in Ireland in September. The Minister has said she will not increase rent supplement levels, but if the Government is to meet the target of ending long-term homelessness by 2016, there must be strategies in place to stem the flow of individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
The Bill I introduce is therefore vital as it provides for the first time for a policy of preventative action rather than dealing with the issue of homelessness when a person or family has already fallen into the trap of being homeless. My proposed amendments augment and reinforce in a practical way the provisions in the 2009 Act. Housing advice, advocacy and tenancy support are all important, effective and cost-effective, but the current wording of section 10 limits those interventions. I acknowledge the support of Focus Ireland on this matter. I also acknowledge the material we all received today from the Simon Community setting out its three common-sense solutions, the last of which is to prevent homelessness before it happens. Once a person falls into homelessness, it is a very difficult journey back to stability. There are all sorts of statistics which show that those in emergency accommodation can get back into a home situation with very little help. This is part of what I am discussing here, and I hope the amendments I propose will be made.