I thank Members for the opportunity to speak again about this important issue.
Homelessness is one of the most urgent issues facing the Government and it is one we are committed to resolving. The situation of children in emergency accommodation is particularly disturbing. This morning, we have a report by the Ombudsman for Children's office on family hubs. This report gives a voice to very young children living in family hubs, which is very valuable. I will take the particular recommendations on board and bring the report to the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone.
Family hubs are a more appropriate first response than hotels. However, they must be run to the highest possible standards and they must remain a temporary response for families living in them. My Department is already moving on some of the priorities identified in the report. Notably, we recently issued instructions to local authorities nationally on the extension of the national quality standards framework for homeless services. The framework, which has been fully implemented in the Dublin region, has been designed to ensure that the services we provide to individuals and families experiencing homelessness are well organised, co-ordinated and focused on moving people out of homelessness into sustainable housing solutions as quickly as possible. The framework recognises the rights of children and provides that children are consulted regarding their needs. I will be in contact with the local authorities and our service providers that are operating family hubs, which includes Crosscare, Focus Ireland, the Good Shepherd, the Peter McVerry Trust, Respond, the Salvation Army and Sophia Housing to ask them for their response to this important report. Those responses will guide the further measures that must be taken.
My role, as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, is to fix our broken system but it is also to ensure there are sufficient homes available for all of those who need them. While we are committed to ensuring that those families experiencing homelessness are provided with the best possible emergency accommodation as they are supported to identify and secure an independent home, we recognise that there is always more work to do in this most important area. No one wants any children to be in emergency accommodation and no one wants any child to be in such a precarious position.
The approach to supporting families and children experiencing homelessness involves a wide-ranging approach in which a number of Departments and agencies are responsible, in particular, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills.
In September 2017, I established the homelessness inter-agency group to ensure that services to individuals, families and their children were provided in a coherent and co-ordinated manner and, importantly, in a caring and compassionate manner. The number of Departments and agencies with key roles in the provision of supports and services to children experiencing homelessness demonstrates both the complexity of the issue and also the determined commitment from all of Government to address this issue.
I will briefly outline some of those supports. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is responsible for policy development and implementation with regard to issues that affect children, in particular, childhood care and education, child welfare and protection. Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is responsible for supporting and promoting the development, welfare and protection of children and the effective functioning of families and it delivers a range of services to support families and children experiencing homelessness. Its educational welfare service works with schools to put supports in place to assist families experiencing homelessness. That includes support through transport, books and uniforms. It also supports families in their interactions with their schools.
The educational welfare service also examines the impact of homelessness in the context of school attendance and participation as well as retention. Guidance has been developed for families to support them also in this area. Tusla works closely with existing local structures such as the children and young persons services committees and community based services such as the family resource centres, FRCs, to ensure that adequate supports are available to families in homelessness to enable children and young people to continue to attend, fully participate as well as progress in school.
A range of resources from the Department of Education and Skills are also available to support schools in dealing with identified additional educational needs, including needs which may arise for children experiencing homelessness. This includes the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. Psychologists in that service can provide advice and guidance to principles and teachers regarding individual students' needs and in the development of whole-school approaches to support inclusion, participation and integration. In addition, the psychologists support schools to implement early intervention and prevention programmes.
Additional support is provided to the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, school support programme to schools identified as having the highest concentrations of pupils from disadvantaged communities. Schools use those additional resources to meet the identified needs of their pupils, including the additional needs that may arise for pupils experiencing homelessness. Schools designated as DEIS can also avail of a home school community liaison and school completion support provided by Tusla's educational welfare service to assist with school attendance, retention and progression, which can be areas of particular challenge to those children who are experiencing homelessness living in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation or in family hubs.
With Healthy Ireland we are enabling the running of a successful health and nutrition pilot aimed at families and children in emergency accommodation. One group recognised as being particularly vulnerable to homelessness are those young people leaving State care. Tusla co-ordinates the overall service response in this area. These individuals require additional supports to ensure a smooth transition from State care and that they are not put at risk of homelessness.
Funding is in place under my Department's capital assistance scheme which enables approved housing bodies, AHBs, to acquire residential units to accommodate young people exiting State care. Work is ongoing between Tusla, my Department and the local authorities to ensure the acquisition of properties for approved housing bodies for the accommodation of care leavers are progressed as quickly as possible.
A Dublin area co-ordination forum for AHBs and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, has been established by Tusla as well as a national co-ordinating forum for AHBs to ensure coverage in all areas and efficient implementation of the scheme, with an emphasis on forward planning to anticipate and plan for demands in 2019 and 2020.
Approximately 40 properties have thus far been or are in the process of being purchased under this scheme.
My Department's focus is on ensuring that we deliver housing solutions for families and children experiencing homelessness. We are making some progress, with over 5,000 adults exiting homelessness into tenancies in 2018. To date, Rebuilding Ireland has increased the active social housing stock by over 21,000 homes, with 8,420 of these delivered in 2018 alone. A further 10,000 social homes will be delivered before the end of this year.
As we increase the supply of social housing, we face an unacceptable number of families accessing emergency accommodation and an unacceptable situation of families in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. The Government is committed to supporting these families to identify and secure their own homes. However, until homes can be secured, we must provide the best supports possible in emergency accommodation. In the budget for this year, we increased the funding provided to local authorities for homeless services to €146 million, an increase of over 25% on the 2018 allocation. This funding will ensure that local authorities can provide the best possible supports to those individuals and families experiencing homelessness until they can be assisted to secure a more sustainable housing solution that is best suited to their needs.
One of the key priorities for my Department is preventing the flow of families and children into homeless services. We know many of those families presenting have previously resided in private rented property. I am committed to strengthening and improving security of tenure for tenants through the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018, which was published in December and which is now making its way through the House.
Under the homeless HAP place finder service, all local authorities are being provided with the option to pay deposits and advance rental payments for any households in emergency accommodation in order to allow them to secure accommodation via the HAP scheme. Local authorities may, depending on demand, offer households in emergency accommodation the option to source accommodation themselves or with the assistance of the local place finder offices. Dedicated HAP place finder positions are also being funded by my Department, with 23 local authorities having place finder officers in place. To the end of last year, over 6,100 households have been supported through homeless HAP nationally, including almost 900 in the Dublin region.
My Department is also funding Threshold's tenancy protection service. This service provides advice and support to individuals, couples and families living in private rented accommodation who are experiencing tenancy problems. It has been instrumental in preventing homelessness in the first instance and supporting people to remain in their homes.
Where families require emergency accommodation, we are working to minimise the use of hotels and have been delivering family hubs to provide a more suitable form of accommodation. To date, 27 family hubs have opened nationally since 2017, offering 650 spaces of accommodation for families in the key urban areas where the issue of family homelessness is most pressing. Further family hubs are being developed this year. Family hubs have not only been shown to provide a more suitable environment for families experiencing homelessness, but also have been proven to allow families to exit emergency accommodation far more quickly than would be the case if they were staying in a hotel or bed and breakfast. While these facilities provide more security and stability for homeless families than is possible in hotel accommodation, it is important to note that these facilities are not intended to be seen as a housing solution. Our fundamental objective remains to provide homes for the families concerned. As supply becomes available, families will move into houses and apartments that will be provided under the various social housing supports. As soon as the family go into a hub, they are immediately met by a support team whose main aim is to exit them from homelessness into appropriate accommodation as swiftly as possible.
For those families in hotels and bed breakfast accommodation, the DRHE requires all private emergency operators to have a safeguard statement and staff who are Garda vetted and trained in child protection. The DRHE, supported by Tusla, has set up a mandatory one-day training course in child protection for private emergency accommodation, PEA, staff and the contact details of the dedicated liaison person must be on display in each PEA.
A national standards quality framework for the delivery of homeless services has been developed for my Department by the DRHE. The objective of this framework is to improve the quality of services provided to individuals, families and children who are accessing emergency accommodation. As I said, this is being rolled out on a pilot basis for all of Dublin and will now be rolled out nationally. It is very important that we have this framework in place to make sure we are delivering the best possible emergency accommodation to families in need, and that accommodation is delivered not just in an efficient way but with care and compassion, and with the necessary supports to exit families from emergency accommodation as swiftly as possible.
As already stated, the delivery of supports is being addressed on a multi-agency and multi-departmental basis. In June of last year, the chair of the homelessness inter-agency group submitted a report to me setting out a range of recommendations across a number of policy areas. The latter is in addition to the work that is already happening in regard to quality standards and frameworks. The Government endorses these recommendations in the report. The chair of the group will be submitting a further report to me in the coming weeks setting out the progress that has been made. Where progress has not been made or further actions are identified, I will be engaging with my Cabinet colleagues to ensure that we are delivering the most appropriate supports.
I know everyone will join me in acknowledging the exemplary work undertaken by all of those working with families, children and young people who find themselves needing to access emergency accommodation, whether that be an NGO, a local authority or officials of the various Government Departments involved. They all play an essential role in ensuring the required support and services are provided to those who are most vulnerable in this crisis. All of these individuals face a difficult job and they work tirelessly to provide supports to the individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness and who are our first concern.