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Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage debate -
Friday, 29 Jan 2021

Homelessness: Discussion

The committee is meeting this morning to discuss the issue of homelessness. I wish to remind members that, since they are attending remotely, the Debates Office has asked that each speaker be clearly identified by name to help ensure the accuracy of the Official Report. If members clearly identify themselves and state that they are within the confines of Leinster House, it would be helpful for the committee.

We are joined remotely by Ms Mary Flynn, acting director, and Mr. Brendan Kenny, deputy chief executive, from the Dublin Regional Housing Executive, DRHE. We are also joined by Dr. Una Burns, head of policy and communications with Novas, Professor Eoin O'Sullivan, who is a professor of social policy at Trinity College Dublin, and Ms Alice Leahy, director of the Alice Leahy Trust.

A number of opening statements and briefing material have been circulated to members. I realise that we did not get all the opening statements. We will try to get those statements and put them up on the Oireachtas website. I will ask the witnesses to make their opening statements presently. Members will then be invited to address their questions. Members should confine their questioning to five minutes, and that includes time for the witnesses to respond. If we stick to that, we should be able to get in a second round of questions.

Members attending within the Leinster House complex are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contributions.

This means that they have have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything that they say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege. It is my duty, as Chair, to ensure that this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with such direction.

For witnesses and members attending remotely, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person who is physically present. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to that effect. 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.

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 Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Kenny to make an opening statement on behalf of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We are delighted to be here. We welcome the invitation and look forward to the session this morning. We circulated my report on Wednesday so I expect everybody to have it by this stage and will not go through it in detail. It is broken down into four parts. The first part refers to family homelessness in which there has been a significant improvement over the past two years or so. Good progress continues to be made on that aspect of homelessness. The second part refers to single adults, which is far more complicated and on which we have not made as much progress. There are just over 3,000 single people now in the hostel system in Dublin city, which is 1,000 more than were in the system two years ago. The third part refers to deaths and persons finishing in homeless services, and a small number of deaths on the streets. The fourth part refers to our response to the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on homelessness that was aired about two weeks ago. We are happy to take questions from members of the committee.

I invite Dr. Una Burns to make her opening statement on behalf of Novas.

Dr. Una Burns

I am head of policy and communications with Novas. I thank the committee for the invitation and opportunity to share the experience of our clients who live in our services and whom we work with in the community.

Novas is a national homeless charity and an approved housing body. Annually, we support more than 5,000 people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or experiencing addiction. We provide services in Dublin, Limerick, Tipperary, Clare, Kerry and west Cork.

Today, I will focus on the number of deaths experienced among the homeless community in 2020 and provide some insight into why there was an increase in such deaths. For example, in Novas services, 13 people died in 2020, seven people died in 2019 and six people died in 2018. From that we can see that there was, even among our own clients who were in our services, a significant increase in the number of people who died. Some of that can be attributed to the increase in the number of people we supported, but the number of deaths is disproportionate nonetheless. I will point to maybe a few reasons this happened and to some issues that we can address to prevent the extent of it happening in the future.

I invite Professor O'Sullivan to make his opening statement.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

I had prepared a very brief presentation for the committee. I circulated it last night to the committee secretariat and I am not sure if members have received a copy.

It is just in front of me, Professor O'Sullivan.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

I want to talk briefly about what I call the dynamics of homelessness. The first slide is the one that most people are familiar with. It shows the number of people in emergency accommodation each month since April 2014. The most recent data are for November of 2020 and the December data will be published later today. These are the data that get most attention because they come out regularly each month.

I suggest that is not a particularly helpful set of data but rather that the next chart is much more informative. It tells us the number of people who have entered emergency accommodation for the first time since the beginning of 2014. We can see nearly 36,000 adults entered emergency accommodation in the country over that time, approximately half of those in Dublin and the other half outside of Dublin. The significant issue is that over 60% exited emergency accommodation to housing, either in Dublin or outside of Dublin. Another significant group exited through other means. In Dublin, we can see over that period we had nearly 11,000 exits to housing and another close to 5,000 exits due to people returning home or, in some cases, going to prison or hospital. That is why we are left with that figure of approximately 6,000 at any point in time. However, that is a bit misleading because it does not take into account the huge number of people who enter emergency accommodation and successfully exit it and stay out of homelessness. Sometimes the images we have of homelessness are of the rough sleeps, those in tents and in emergency accommodation. It neglects the fact that the vast majority of people who enter homelessness or emergency accommodation exit successfully, usually to housing.

The next slide shows the shift that has happened over recent years between the exiting to social housing tenancies, either by local authority tenancies or approved housing bodies, or social housing supports, usually in the form of the housing assistance payment. The balance has shifted increasingly towards people exiting via a housing assistance payment.

The next slide talks about what we have learnt and that we are doing well at present. First, this is for Dublin. Dublin runs a very good preventative scheme. They do not highlight it probably as well as they should. Every quarter, between 400 and 500 people are prevented from entering emergency accommodation, usually through the provision of the homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, which is the basic HAP and up to 50%. That has been very successful in preventing, as we can see in quarter 3, nearly 500 adults from entering emergency accommodation in the first place. We are doing fairly well on prevention.

Equally, the next two slides give the committee some information on the Threshold tenancy protection services funded by the DRHE and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It shows the number of contacts, the number of tenancies that are protected and the very small number of households that end up in emergency accommodation following the intervention from the Threshold prevention scheme. We know a fair bit about what works in prevention and it is proving to be particularly successful at present. The following slide is the same data in another format.

We can also see, more generally, that since the Covid restrictions on termination of tenancies in the private rented sector - the biggest driver of numbers in emergency accommodation is people coming from the private rented sector - by April 2020 we had the lowest ever number of new entries into emergency accommodation because of that moratorium. The number increased over the year. They were declining again in November and, I suspect, again, in December and January, and will in February and March because of the moratorium on termination of tenancies. If we were discussing this issue this time last year, we would have been told that due to the constitutional position on private property, we cannot have a ban on terminations of tenancies in the private rented sector. We have, and we have seen the impact it has had on reducing the number of entries to homelessness.

The other issue I wanted to highlight for the committee is that we tend to get focused on Dublin and that the numbers, as Mr. Kenny pointed out, are rising in Dublin, particularly for singles. Dublin is becoming increasingly unique. Homelessness is decreasing in practically every other part of the country. In the south east, numbers have been declining since 2018.

In the west, the number of adults in emergency accommodation has been declining since the beginning of 2019, and in the midlands, that number has been also declining. Dublin is becoming increasingly unique. Whereas numbers there are increasing, outside of Dublin the numbers in emergency accommodation have been decreasing since early 2019 and, as such, it is not a Covid effect and something more long-term is going on there.

In my concluding remarks I make the point that ending homelessness is possible but it will not be achieved through charity, compassion or caring, sleep-outs, shelters or soup. It will be achieved through the large-scale provision of State-funded social housing tenancies, funded by local authorities and approved housing bodies with sustainable streams of funding and eliminating current disincentives to maintaining and retaining the stock.

I thank the members for their attention and I thank Ms Flynn for guiding us through the slides.

I thank Professor O'Sullivan for his presentation which members only received a short while ago or, possibly, yesterday evening. I am sure there will be questions arising from it as members get an opportunity to go through it. I now invite Ms Alice Leahy to make her opening statement.

Ms Alice Leahy

I thank the committee for the invitation to meet with it to discuss this critical issue. I welcome the opportunity to give members our views and to hear theirs. Yesterday, I forwarded a copy of my opening statement, entitled Wasting Time with People?, to the committee. My comments are based on our day-to-day, hands-on work since 1973 with people who find themselves homeless. I have also attached to my opening statement my biography and an information leaflet on the work of the Alice Leahy Trust.

We know that everyone in the Houses of the Oireachtas and beyond is concerned about the plight of homelessness. However, we must ensure that this complex issue receives a complex examination if we are to find a resolution. Having worked in the field of homelessness for almost half a century now, I would have hoped we could have reached a better outcome than the one so graphically evident on our streets. Unfortunately, we have not done so, and in spite of the efforts of many and the spending of immeasurable resources, the overall situation has, if anything, worsened. We still have not reached that point of a holistic, cross-agency, State-sponsored pragmatic response.

Members will note the title of my opening statement is Wasting Time with People with a question mark. This is based on my experience of meeting people in the statutory and NGO sector who find themselves accused of wasting time with people who, perhaps, just want a little time devoted to them alone. A great deal of time is required to build up relationships with vulnerable people, and it is only from that base that we can hope to see some change. Homelessness must be looked at from at least two angles. The structural causes due to lack of housing, which can be eased by increased housing supply, is perhaps the simplest of the two. The social and personal issues that can lead to homelessness are much more complicated and require early intervention if we are to halt the slide of vulnerable human beings onto our streets.

The people we meet who present as homeless have myriad social problems related to the complexity of their personal and unique human condition. Intergenerational poverty relating to poor finance and education, absence of opportunity to work or to have a stake in society all combine to undermine the person. Struggling families where child poverty, neglect, violence or abuse have never been addressed or acknowledged can all lead to low self-esteem and often result in homelessness. Mental health issues are too often dealt with through a medical model response alone. Relationship breakdown and domestic violence can be huge factors.

People become homeless because of their drug-alcohol problem and the challenging behaviour associated with it. We have a very serious drug problem in our city and in our country. Wider society needs to be aware of its responsibility and culpability when it comes to the use of recreational drugs. People who use recreational drugs must recognise the reality that they are supporting a vicious industry.

The Alice Leahy Trust on Bride Road in the heart of Dublin regularly meets people from throughout the country and from other jurisdictions.

Cities, after all, are about diversity. Some of these people are linked into services in other areas and this can cause considerable challenges for those attempting to meet their needs in providing shelter.

Tragically, we see homeless people dying on the streets. We help but sometimes, in spite of our best efforts and the efforts of many others, it is not always possible to save each and every one. We must support and comfort, give all we can in terms of compassion, but sometimes we just cannot enable change.

Government, interdepartmental and inter-agency collaboration is required to address these profound issues but it is meaningless unless the views of front-line workers are listened to. Building up relationships must start with accepting people in all their vulnerability and listening to them; they have a right to be heard.

Just last weekend the American author, Sarah Jaffe, was interviewed by Tim Adams in The Observer. She wrote about front-line workers in New York and the nurses "would tell me that they were getting told, in these exact words, 'to not waste time on things that were non-productive', by which the hospital bosses meant caring, getting to know patients”. It is quite clear that working hands-on with people with complex needs takes time, commitment and a belief that anything is possible. However, that is much harder than ticking boxes and the comfort of bureaucracy. It is necessary if we are ever to make a real difference.

I thank Ms Leahy. I will now open the floor to members, and I ask that we keep it to five minutes.

I thank all the witnesses for coming to our meeting and for sharing with us their knowledge and experience, which is invaluable. I thank the witnesses, their staff and their volunteers for the work they do every day supporting people who are unfortunate and who become homeless.

The four witnesses have made a great combination of contributions because they bring different perspectives, and they largely confirm a lot of what I believe and understand already.

The point was made by Professor O'Sullivan that the profile of people who are homeless, and those who have become homeless over the past five years, has changed. That is not to say that there are no people who are homeless who have, as described by Ms Leahy, other significant challenges, but there has been a change in the past five or six years that has been driven largely by the lack of supply of affordable housing. People who have been on the social housing waiting list for many years and who have been in private rented accommodation over the past five years have found themselves homeless. I commend Mr. Brendan Kenny and the DRHE on the work they have done in Dublin in reducing the numbers. We are always quick to highlight when the numbers are increasing but these are the lowest numbers in family homelessness, which is great. We need to see it eliminated. It is largely down to Mr. Kenny, but I would like his feedback on the funding that has been provided for the voids refurbishment for the city council to do a call for housing, to acquire housing to prevent tenants from being evicted, and to purchase those houses. I thank him and his staff who have assisted me on a number of occasions and helped to prevent people becoming homeless.

Over the past six to 12 months, there has been an increasing use of private operators to provide emergency homeless accommodation. The numbers of deaths in homelessness make the point starkly. Eight individuals died on the streets in Dublin, but the vast majority of the remainder of the 60 people who died were in some form of provided accommodation. Those numbers say that the people who slept on the street did better and were safer than those who went into the emergency accommodation. I appreciate that there was an emergency response required, but I will give one example of how the emergency response has manifested itself in North Frederick Street in my constituency.

The street is only 100 m or so long but seven privately operated hostels have opened on it in the past six months. They are operated by bouncers and security personnel. When they were open I would not have gone into a pub in Dublin that had a bouncer outside it. I will not do so in the future either because it indicates to me that a pub is not well run. I would not want to sleep in a facility that required security and bouncers on the door. I have a real issue with that. North Frederick Street was lived in by Countess Markievicz, Harry Clarke and Oliver St. John Gogarty. It is an historic street less than 500 m from O'Connell Street. Concentrating all of these people in such accommodation is ghettoising people who are homeless. These are people who had been getting on with their lives. Many of them had been living in rented accommodation. I would like a response from Mr. Kenny on that.

My second question is for Dr. Burns. Dublin City Council, despite all the criticisms I have just made, has clearly made significant strides in reducing family homelessness. That is due to interventions such as homeless HAP increases and investment in voids and other housing. What is needed to achieve the same reductions outside Dublin? While I appreciate the problem is acute in Dublin, there is also a problem outside the capital. I thank all the witnesses for their contributions.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

I thank Senator Fitzpatrick. The issue with families has improved significantly. We are very grateful for the funding for the repair of voids. The HAP system has made a big difference also, as have the council's lettings. For example, in 2018, we had only 1,400 lettings in the entire year. In 2019, there were 2,000 lettings so the supply has been improving and that has made a difference. Obviously, Covid-19 has also made a difference but even before Covid, the situation with regard to families was beginning to stabilise and numbers were reducing.

Touching on the issue of private emergency accommodation, the reality is that just before Covid we had a crisis. We needed emergency accommodation but Covid very much worsened that crisis. We had to empty some of the hostels in the city. We had to thin out most of the hostels for social distancing purposes and so on. We had to very quickly acquire hostels in the city as otherwise more people would have been sleeping and dying on the street. We managed to have only three deaths from Covid during the whole of 2020. I believe we would have had many more deaths if we had not done that. Our only option was to go out and source accommodation in the private sector. We know that the opportunities that came to us may have resulted in high concentrations in the areas where there was already a high concentration but we had to do that. We believe the vast majority of these premises are managed very well by private operators. They are being very carefully monitored.

The Senator mentioned bouncers. The only reason there is a bouncer on the street in question is that we received many complaints about problems outside the buildings and we asked a private operator to put on some security. That made a difference. The actual operation and management of the premises is not carried out by bouncers and security.

With regard to the deaths, unfortunately, deaths are occurring everywhere. We have had more deaths in the NGO-managed premises than in the private emergency accommodation. Deaths are occurring in all premises. We are concerned at the increase in the number of deaths. There was certainly a surge from July until the end of 2020 and also in January of this year.

The bottom line in respect of emergency accommodation is that we just had to get it. It was an emergency. We have a good situation now, with plenty of beds to spare in the system. We would like to think that as time moves on over the next year or so, we will eliminate some of the homeless premises - perhaps those on North Frederick Street - and operate in a more strategic way. We may convert some of these premises into own-door apartments. The reality, however, is that we had a major emergency in 2020. We had to do as we did and we are managing. We will also commission a company to inspect all our hostel premises in the city on a regular basis. We will have those inspections in place soon.

We will return to the Senator's question on Dublin versus the rest of the country as we are out of time for this slot. We may be able to get an answer in the second round of questioning.

Like Senator Fitzpatrick, I acknowledge the enormous work being done by our local authorities and their homeless services, the NGO sector and the day services. I also acknowledge the significant contribution Professor O'Sullivan is making to the evidence base of our conversations on these matters. I also acknowledge two important submissions from other organisations. The Simon Community has given us a good and detailed submission on prevention and actions it believes need to be taken and Focus Ireland has made a submission on the deaths of people experiencing homelessness and how we - agencies, politicians and the media - should all respond to that. I strongly commend those submissions to members.

Dr. Sharon Lambert of University College Cork has an exceptional and timely article in the Irish Examiner today. Novas and a piece of work the organisation is doing, to which my colleague, Deputy Gould, will refer in the second round, is mentioned in that article. I also commend that to people to read.

I will direct my questions to Mr. Kenny and Professor O'Sullivan, and Deputy Gould will direct his questions to Novas and Ms Leahy. I have four specific questions. My first is for both Mr. Kenny and Professor O'Sullivan. Obviously, we are all very concerned by the significant increase in the number of reported deaths of people experiencing homelessness, whether in emergency accommodation or rough sleeping. I am not looking for an explanation of the reasons for that because I know reports by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, and the HSE will look into that, but more what needs to be done now to try to bring that trend down in terms of emergency responses, both from homeless services and the HSE, particularly in terms of addition and mental health supports. Should we be looking at the practice in the UK of holding adult safeguarding reviews and look-backs when people die in services or care to see how the care can be improved in the future for other users.

Specifically on three of the issues that emerged in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, there seems to be a clear disagreement between the DRHE, as per Mr. Kenny's submission, and the Minister over local connection. What exactly is the situation on the ground? We are still hearing of people outside Dublin presenting in Dublin for emergency accommodation being sent back or turned away. Also, given some of the very distressing phone conversations we were privy to in that documentary, will there be a review of the freephone service? Are the relevant local authority staff getting the adequate trauma support that Novas is piloting in the south west to ensure they cope to the best of their ability with very difficult circumstances?

Specifically on Professor O'Sullivan's last point on housing, are we delivering enough Housing First tenancies annually? The number was below 200 last year. Given that he said we have about 3,000 people in this system, how many do we need on a year-on-year basis? Does Professor O'Sullivan think the emergency measures that have led to the dramatic reduction in homeless numbers should be continued after level 5 so that we keep managing those numbers down?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

Obviously, we are concerned at the increase in the numbers of deaths. A very intensive review is being carried out through the HSE by Dr. Austin O'Carroll which we will publish. It is difficult to know exactly how best to try to reduce that figure. We are not sure if anxiety and issues around Covid have made a difference. There have been a number of suicides. Mental health and addiction are the key issues as far as we are concerned. They will have to be addressed and we will have to do that better than we have done before. We are working very closely with the HSE on that.

On the RTÉ programme, we are on the same wavelength as the Minister. I have spoken to the Minister a number of times on it. It is a difficult issue. In the past month, between 60 and 70 individuals have been accommodated in emergency accommodation in Dublin who have come straight up from the country. There is a significant increase. This is all happening when there is a restriction on travel. We have to be careful about those already in our hostels. If someone were to come into a hostel with Covid, the disease could spread to everybody in it.

Every local authority has its own responsibility. We changed the system at the beginning of this year. We eliminated all the one-night beds, which is a good thing, but it means that we need to carry out an assessment. We try to prevent people from going in. We get parents contacting us. A mother in the west was highly critical of the DRHE for accommodating her son so quickly in Dublin when she really wanted him back. It is a tricky issue, but nobody is left homeless if there is a risk to anybody. We are lucky that at the moment because we have beds. We turned away people years ago because we had no beds, but there are plenty of beds now. If somebody is genuinely homeless and we have reasonable evidence of that, he or she will get a bed and we will do the assessment afterwards. Nobody is being turned away at the moment.

Before the outbreak of Covid, we had started a review of the freefone service. That got stalled somewhat because of the pandemic. We will reactivate it. There will be significant changes in the freefone service in the coming months. We are conscious of the trauma of staff there. They take over 200 calls each day and it is a very difficult job. We have managed our way through the pandemic very well. Some of the DRHE staff contracted Covid and had to be isolated. We have had to move staff from administration duties to the front line. There will be significant changes in the freefone service. We apologise for the incident that was shown on RTÉ. That should not have happened.

There was a question to Professor O'Sullivan on the moratorium.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

Deputy Ó Broin actually had two questions. One was on housing. There is a reasonably ambitious target to achieve 663 tenancies by the end by the end of this year. Housing First needs to be expanded. I sent an updated slide this morning to highlight that this is a clear evidence-based policy that works very effectively, particularly for those with a complex need who have been sold a part-time programme. This is a tried and tested cost-effective way of managing this issue.

The difficulty is the supply of one-bedroom apartments. We probably need a relaxation of the rule that Housing First tenants are only allocated a one-bedroom unit. We need some flexibility on that. There is clearly a distribution issue if a person is given a two-bedroom apartment when other people are on the waiting list. A core element of Housing First is not just the housing but the reconnection of individuals to their extended families, their communities and having space for people to stay overnight and reconnecting with children. I urge some flexibility on that. I am not aware of any evidence from the big Housing First evaluations in France and Canada. There is fear that if people have a spare bedroom, old acquaintances from the street or shelters will want to come in and that may disrupt the Housing First tenancy. There are anecdotal stories about that, but there is no hard evidence that that is the case.

On a moratorium, before the Covid pandemic, a number of people suggested that we needed a period to slow down the flow of households into emergency accommodation and that that required rebalancing the rights of landlords and tenants. It was a hypothesis at that stage as to whether it would make a difference. As a result of the Covid pandemic, we now know that it has made a very significant difference, particularly for families and less so for single people. The reason that single people are still coming in is that they were not in tenancies and rather were doubled up or sharing. The pandemic exposed that. It would be good if we had a period of time so that Mr. Kenny and his colleagues could in some way manage things to stop the extraordinary flow every day into emergency accommodation. We now have very clear evidence that it has worked. The current period will end on 15 March. There would be a very strong justification for extending that moratorium, irrespective of the Covid pandemic.

Sorry, Professor O'Sullivan-----

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

It is not a blanket moratorium and tenancies can still be terminated for very good reasons.

We have run out of time in that slot, but we can return to the matter.

I thank all our guests for being here with us. Today's presentations are encouraging. The figures are not where we want them to be but are encouraging nonetheless. It is really good to see that the preventive scheme is working, that homeless HAP is being used as a successful intervention for families and that the eviction moratorium the Government introduced during level 5 is working. It is interesting to hear Professor O'Sullivan talk about how he would like to see the moratorium extended beyond 15 March, which is the current plan. I would be really interested to hear how long he would recommend it be extended for, whether we need a whole lot more time or whether quite a short stint might give us a little breathing space in being able to slow down the entry into emergency accommodation.

Housing First is very much the long-term solution when it comes to tackling this problem, but we also need to look at the short-term solutions, one of which is emergency accommodation. I know that Deputy Ó Broin has talked about this as well. From my perspective as a Dub, I was quite taken aback that people from outside Dublin featured in the "RTÉ Investigates" exposé were not getting the same treatment and the same access to beds as people from Dublin. The Minister tells us there is an average of 40 empty beds in emergency accommodation most nights. It was also quite disheartening to hear people say they would rather be in a tent on the banks of the canal than in emergency accommodation because they felt safer. I wonder what we need to do - what inspections we need to carry out, what actions we need to take or what support we need to introduce - to make people feel safer in emergency accommodation.

I watched the "RTÉ Investigates" exposé with the same feeling in the pit of my stomach as everybody else and I agreed with pretty much everything that was said in it. One time I did disagree, however, was when it was said how every homeless person needed greater access to a key worker. It is not that I necessarily disagreed with that; I just thought, what if we looked at it a little differently? It was felt that the key worker needed to be there to help people in homelessness navigate through the bureaucracy of finding permanent accommodation. Is there a way that we can look at eliminating that bureaucracy instead to empower people and to help them get there more quickly? I would be particularly interested to hear Ms Leahy's views on that.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

I certainly think the moratorium needs to be extended. For how long, it is hard to know at the moment, but I would suggest that it be reviewed every quarter. The current moratorium will last until roughly the middle of March. It should be extended by three months, reviewed at the end of those three months and then extended if necessary. That might get over the difficulty the Attorney General regularly has with this issue of the balance between landowners' and tenants' rights post Covid. Exit is no longer a hypothesis; we can demonstrate that the moratorium has dramatically slowed down the flow of households into emergency accommodation. Therefore, if we do want to do that, we know that this is a policy tool that is available to us.

Mr. Kenny, what needs to be done to make the emergency shelters safer for people to go into?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We have an unusual situation at the moment in that there has been a huge increase in the number of tents around the city, areas around the canal and Henry Street as places have got very quiet there. We would argue very strongly that our hostels, our premises in the city, have reasonable standards and are well managed. A lot of them are managed by the charitable organisations themselves. They provide food and toilet and showering facilities. They are warm. That cannot be compared with a tent, where it is unhygienic and dangerous and they are at risk of being attacked by gangs of young people and so on. It is very unhygienic. We get complaints from residents living in the canal area where people are using their gardens for going to the toilet and things like that. It is a risky situation to be in and many of them are involved in drug activity. So we still argue strongly that it is a far better option for people to go into hostels. We can understand that it is not as simple as that and there are addiction issues and mental health issues. On Sunday night we had 116 empty beds in the system. I have never seen that in my whole career in Dublin City Council. The night before last we had 97. So there are plenty of beds there. We know it is not as simple as that but, really, there is a serious issue when the most serious issue we have at the moment is people residing in tents. It is dangerous and unhygienic and there is no need for it.

We must try to find some way of encouraging people - we are doing our level best through outreach and so on - into hostel accommodation, which is much safer than staying on the streets.

Outside Dublin, we got the balance wrong in a small number of cases. RTÉ highlighted that. It is a difficult situation, what with the lockdowns, travel restrictions and so on. If people have accommodation in Mayo, Galway or wherever but leave it, come to Dublin and seek out accommodation here, we try to return them to where they have local services and perhaps family connections. Given that we have had excess accommodation for a few months, though, no one is turned away. If anyone is at risk of having to sleep rough, he or she will be offered accommodation.

I invite Ms Leahy to respond to Deputy Higgins's question on simplifying the bureaucracy.

Ms Alice Leahy

The Deputy mentioned key workers in particular. That is a matter that we think about constantly. We encourage people to use services, but we also encourage them to do things for themselves. While key workers are essential at the beginning to help people navigate the system, people should not continue needing them. We are concerned that there is a danger of people becoming dependent on key workers doing things for them as opposed to key workers going along with them and empowering them to do things for themselves. This is an issue that we should be examining more closely. Does that answer the Deputy's question?

It does indeed. I thank the witnesses for their responses.

I thank Deputy Higgins for sticking to the allotted time. Is Senator Boyhan or Deputy O'Donoghue next?

I do not know if Deputy O'Donoghue is present, but I am certainly happy to speak.

Go ahead.

I thank our guests for their presentations, which were concise. I would not have expected anything less from the people involved. I would also like to-----


I am sorry, but there is a sound. Can everyone hear me?

We seem to be picking up sound from someone's microphone. Will everyone except Senator Boyhan mute his or her microphone, please?

I thank the witnesses for participating and for their concise presentations. I thank Mr. Kenny. In my interactions with the four Dublin authorities, it is him whom I usually call first. I acknowledge his significant role, assistance and support. From time to time, all of us politicians encounter people who are facing homelessness. They are not in the black area or the white area, but in the grey area in the middle. There are issues and an immediate need for support, and I have always found Mr. Kenny's door to be open. More importantly, I have found him and the four local authorities to be supportive. I tend to go to him. I apologise for that, but I know he gets things done.

I wish to concentrate on two matters in the time available to me, those being, children and other young people in homelessness. A staggering number of young children are homeless. We know that children in homelessness suffer higher rates of anxiety, illness and disease infection, difficulties in education, poor nutrition and obesity. All of these issues have been spelled out for us, but these children also face difficulties from moving around and being unsure of where their homes are. They are homeless. There are major issues concerning the emotional stability and vulnerability of these children and their mothers, parents, guardians or whoever is with them. Will Ms Leahy outline to the committee her first-hand experience of the challenges and difficulties associated with homeless children and young people?

We know anecdotally, from experts and from everyone working on the ground, that the cohort of people of 17 to 28 years of age who are transitioning from detention in the prison system or institutional care is exceptionally vulnerable in a range of ways. When someone is homeless, he or she is vulnerable to exploitation, prostitution, alcohol, drugs, crime and other travesties that damage people's lives.

There are significant challenges with integrating, mixing and socialising the same cohort of people. We have to do something about that group. I ask the witnesses to focus on the significant challenges of homelessness for young children and their parents, who are invariably young too, and the challenges relating to people coming from institutional care. I would like to hear first-hand experiences. I ask Ms Leahy to address it first and I would be interested to hear other people's views.

Ms Alice Leahy

I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this issue recently and powerfully. We do not work with children because we do not have the facilities and it would be too dangerous. However, we are acutely aware of the group of young people that the Senator speaks about. In our early days working here, all the people we met came from the institutions of the State. It is in the past now but we still meet people from those days. It is shocking to see young people coming from care with nothing in place. More than any other group, they need compassion. That might be the wrong word to use but they need to be helped, understood and supported on the next step of the way because that is the most crucial one in their lives. They can so quickly get sucked into homelessness and relationships that certainly would not help them. This is important and it is why I said earlier that we need to look beyond just housing and have all the services in place to help young people to use the housing. I know there is a good project in Dún Laoghaire. It should be replicated throughout the country. We can only do this if we listen to the young people, have patience, give them time and try to understand what they are going through.

Whatever we do, we need to make sure that it is a way to support them. "Rescue" is the wrong word to use because if they are not supported at this vulnerable stage, their future is bleak. What resources are there before they leave? We need to get the help to them at the beginning but when they end up in care, what resources are in place to enable them to move forward with some degree of confidence? That has to be addressed by government agencies and people like the Senator who are in a position to do something. That will only happen if the front-line workers who are attempting to support these young people are listened to. One needs to be with people. It is challenging and difficult but it is essential.

Dr. Una Burns

I thank the Senator. Novas has worked with children who are homeless since about 2005. It was a rare occurrence at the time and the work was largely preventative. What Professor O'Sullivan spoke about, regarding Threshold's work to prevent homelessness, is vital. Homelessness among children is an adverse childhood experience. It is probably one of the worst adverse childhood experiences and the longer it goes on, the more enduring and difficult it is for children to deal with it. It is important that we prevent children and families from becoming homeless. The pandemic bringing about the moratorium in evictions has been important in stemming the flow into homelessness. We can learn much from that and we need to extend it.

When children become homeless, evidence both nationally and internationally has shown that the duration of their homelessness needs to be kept to a minimum. Six months has been the key point for families spending time in hubs. It needs to be less than that. The longer it goes on, the worse the childhood experience becomes and the greater the impact in later life. We need to use hubs for short periods as safe environments which are supported by resettlement staff to get people into long-term secure tenancies.

Sharon Lambert has spoken about this on numerous occasions. Adults who live in homeless accommodation, particularly those who are entrenched in the cycle of homelessness, will often have spent periods homeless when they were children. In 20 years' time, for example, the impact this will have on children may be significant. Prevention, therefore, is essential, whether that is through HAP, direct builds or whatever it is.

Senator Fitzpatrick asked about the issue in other parts of the country. The HAP discretion rate outside Dublin is 20%, while in Dublin it is 50%, which is a key issue because the 20% rate is just not enough. Simon Communities published a report earlier this week that showed that not one property in the private rented market in Limerick can be accessed through HAP, nor even through the 20% elevated homeless HAP. If it is working well in Dublin, we probably need to consider rolling it out elsewhere, even on an interim basis until more public and social housing becomes available. Again, it is about prevention and that we is what we need to examine. Instead of trying to fix the problem afterwards, we should get in there before the person becomes homeless. That is vital.

I thank Dr. Burns. I allowed that section to run over time because the issue of homelessness among children is extremely important, given that it concerns them at the formative stage of their lives.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

It is worth noting that the number of children in emergency accommodation has dropped dramatically in the past two years, from 4,000 to 2,500. That is partly because families have been exited from emergency accommodation at accelerated rates. While that may not be enough, the figure had increased from 500 to 4,000 in a period of five years and is now dropping rapidly. It might be worth exploring the reasons for that in different regions.

That is a very significant drop and I thank Professor O'Sullivan for pointing it out. It merits further investigation and perhaps we will return to it.

I thank all our guests for the briefing they provided. My questions relate to standards of reporting and the practice of refusal, and they are for the providers. Ms Leahy spoke to the standards of accommodation being provided by both private and public operators. In her view and from her experience on the ground, are they safe environments in which privacy is given where needed and where the needs of people with disabilities and mental health issues are met?

Turning to Mr. Kenny, with respect to standards in private and NGO homeless accommodation, are inspections carried out to ensure that standards are met? If not, are accommodation providers being sanctioned? Can the DHRE provide annual reports that include financial statements with details of capital and overhead spending? This is vital for transparency and accountability.

On refusal, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the programme for Government are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to accommodation when requested. Last week, however, "RTÉ Investigates" illuminated the issue of people being refused accommodation for not being from the area or county. Can Mr. Kenny speak to this? If someone is not regularised or is without a PPS number, or for whatever reason is being refused either one night-only or long-term accommodation, what can the DHRE do to ensure that these people have safe accommodation?

Ms Alice Leahy

In years past, we used to visit all the hostels but we do not do that anymore. Certainly, from what we hear from people who come to us, some hostels are very well run. Nevertheless, there has been an increase, as Senator Fitzpatrick and Mr. Kenny noted, of privately run hostels and we have received complaints about some of them.

When we get a complaint, we encourage the person who comes to us with it to complain to the DRHE. We have been in contact with it about some of those hostels and it dealt with any problems we raised. I thank Mr. Kenny for that.

I believe that if hostels, privately-run or otherwise, are getting a lot of State aid they should be inspected. People need to see if those places are comfortable and safe. There is a terrible danger when one talks about inspections whereby somebody goes in and does not capture the humanity of the staff, which is required by the people staying there. It is a bit like the bureaucracy where somebody rushes in, has everything in order and, perhaps, does not listen to the little nuggets of companionship or comfort. I believe we need to look at hostels that are being run as a business, because many of those hostels are referred to.

On the other hand, emergency accommodation had to be found. This is where we are at now and it is a good time to look at the whole picture. Are these hostels suitable? Why do we need to have so many privately-run hostels? Are the services available or even allowed into those hostels? We need to acknowledge, though, it is not too long ago that the mantra was to get rid of all the hostels. There are, however, many long-established hostels around which a certain ethos has developed. Perhaps, that is why they were set up. They are very different from privately-run hostels, however.

Certainly, if a lot of taxpayers' money is going into these places we need to ask questions. We need to ask if people feel safe and comfortable. There is certainly drug-taking in hostels. That has come across as a clear concern with people being afraid. If places are properly run, people should be able to live safely even if it is only for a short time. These, however, are issues our public representatives need to address.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

With regard to standards, we have a national quality standards framework which applies to all the NGO facilities in the country. That is monitored overall by the DRHE. We are now in the process of transferring that framework to other premises that are managed by private operators. We carry out inspections, however. We inspect the private premises probably more often than we do the NGOs. We also have this system where we respond almost immediately to any complaint that comes into us, perhaps within an hour. We also have in-reach services going into private premises. That can be like the HSE's social workers or our own in-house support workers. If they see anything wrong or out of place, they are asked to report it to our standards team straight away and that is quickly addressed.

In the past year or two, we brought back some retired staff to carry out inspections on a regular basis. We want that on a more professional basis. We are now in the process of undertaking a procurement process to get an independent company to do inspections of all hostel premises in the city, both NGOs and private. When that process is complete, which should be in the next month or two, we will have that company operating right through the city and all reports from those inspections will be published.

With regard to annual reports, we do a report every month to our councillors. It is circulated to media, and it is not just councillors in Dublin city but those in the three counties as well. There is no obligation for the DRHE to make up an annual report. There has, however, been a request to do so in more recent times so we will do that, absolutely. The previous organisation, the Dublin homeless agency, did it back in 2015. Therefore, we will have an annual report to be published hopefully at the end of March. We are under pressure because of Covid-19 but we will do that every year. We have all the information people are looking for. If there was any lack of transparency in recent months it is because we simply had to move administration staff to the front line. We could not keep up with the number of requests. Much of that information about finance and capital funding and so on is already on the Department's website. The committee will, however, have an annual report from DRHE before the end of March and one every year from then on.

Sorry, I have to interrupt you because I need to move on to the next set of questions.

Can I come back in at the end?

If we have time, but we are running over time at the moment as every speaker is using about seven or eight minutes. These are interesting topics and people are getting a lot of information out of this, so I am trying to manage the time as best I can. I call Senator Rebecca Moynihan.

I will try to be quick and ask questions as opposed to making statements. I thank the participants for coming today and, in particular, I pay tribute to Brendan Kenny. I have worked with Mr. Kenny on Dublin City Council for the last ten years. He is one of the great examples of a pure public servant. He has a very can-do attitude and if anyone has a problem, they go to Mr. Kenny. That is my experience of dealing with him.

Professor O'Sullivan talked about the decreasing level of homelessness in other parts of the country. What would he attribute that to when compared with the situation in Dublin? One of the things Councillor Anthony Flynn has talked about is that we do not have the numbers for homeless deaths in the country. For example, we know the figure has increased in Dublin but we do not have a fair representation in Limerick, Cork or Galway. Perhaps Professor O'Sullivan could give us his experience of that for this year.

On a question to Mr. Kenny, one of the issues that came up in the research conducted by BeLonG To on the LGBTQ+ experience of homelessness was the gendered nature of hostels and how some people, particularly trans and non-binary people, did not want to go into hostels because they did not feel safe. Have any steps been taken to address that or to collect data on that issue? Has any work been done by Dublin City Council and what is the Dublin Region Homeless Executive's perspective on that?

I have a question for Ms Leahy and Novas on the vaccine roll-out programme. Have they had any indication from the Department of where both their service users and staff are on the list for the vaccine programme? Do they have concerns about where they are on that list? Mr. Kenny mentioned the DRHE is employing a company to inspect all private hostel places. How many places are operating in a private capacity? When does Mr. Kenny expect those inspections to be up and running and what are the terms of reference for that?

I think the first question was to Mr. Kenny or possibly it was to Dr. Burns of Novas.

Ms Mary Flynn

Is it on the roll-out of the vaccine?

No, I think it was in regard to the comparison between the rest of the country and Dublin.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

I am not entirely sure of the reason for that. It certainly started in most of the regions in early 2019. It seems to be related to the fairly dramatic slowdown in the rate of new admissions or new entrants into emergency accommodation, rather than more exits from emergency accommodation. It is just the flow, particularly for families, so I think it is probably a mixture of both prevention and superior rates of exit.

Dublin will always be in that difficult position and, like any other capital city in Europe, it will have those additional problems. At this stage, we probably need a dual strategy, one for Dublin and one for outside of Dublin, because the difficulties in Dublin are profoundly different from those in Mullingar, Galway, Limerick or Cork.

In terms of deaths, it is very difficult to know. I have a difficulty with the term “homeless deaths” and I think Mr. Kenny has raised this point. As we said, 37,000 people entered emergency accommodation over the last six or seven years and the number of people who died out of those is absolutely tiny. While every death is appalling, to say that because I spent a period of time in emergency accommodation or in long-term accommodation funded under section 10, I am somehow to be labelled a homeless death is, to me, profoundly wrong.

We need to find a new language to describe this because they are not homeless. As per the Focus Ireland submission, the perception is that they are all deaths on the street when they are not. We need to be very careful with the language we use around this because it is profoundly misleading. The same is true with some of the headlines we see about homeless deaths. They are associated with tents and rough sleeping. We know the November count in Dublin was too high, but it was 137. No other capital city in Europe has such a low number of rough sleepers and we need to bear that in mind as well.

I thank Professor O'Sullivan. Does Ms Leahy want to answer the question on the vaccine roll-out for staff in services?

Ms Alice Leahy

Yes, but first of all I compliment Professor O'Sullivan on the point he has made on the deaths of people who are homeless. It is a very important issue.

Like everybody else in this country, we are wondering when we are going to get the vaccine. There are problems throughout Europe with the drug companies and political debates are taking place. We are very fortunate that we have been able to stay open, thanks to my colleagues, even if we are dealing with a smaller number of people. One of our directors is a pharmacist and we are keeping a very close eye on when the vaccine will become available to front-line workers. Like everybody else, we are just going from day to day and monitoring the situation very carefully. We are trying to stay safe and make sure that all those who use our services and work here stay safe.

Dr. Una Burns

I echo what Ms Leahy said. Like everybody else, we are waiting for the vaccine. We do not have any timeline yet, but we are working closely with the DRHE, the HSE and Dr. Austin O’Carroll to ensure our services are prioritised. In many respects, the homeless services are a victim of their own success because they have done so well in keeping the case numbers low and keeping transmission of the virus low in services that may not be prioritised in the same way as other residential settings that have suffered to a greater extent. One service in Limerick with an ageing population that has significant comorbidity issues is akin to a nursing home and we advocate that it be prioritised ahead of the rest of our services. We are just waiting like everybody else and keeping our infection control measures as tight as possible until that time comes.

Do we have information on the number of inspections and how many spaces there are in private provision? We probably do not have time for an answer now, but could Mr. Kenny indicate if the figures and information are included in the quarterly or monthly reports? Could we request that the committee be furnished with those reports as well?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We can certainly do that. It is 50:50 at the moment. Of the 3,000 beds in the homeless hostel facilities in the city, about 50% are managed by NGOs and the other 50% are managed by the private sector. We will publish the terms of reference for the private companies as well. That is no problem.

That is fine. I also ask that the report that goes to councillors be forwarded to the committee. If it is permitted, we would appreciate having the information in it.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We can do that. That is no problem.

I have about three sets of questions so I will get straight into them. My first question is for Mr. Kenny. I take it from his previous answer on the national quality standards framework, NQFS, that they do not currently apply to private providers. Why are private providers exempt? Who made the decision that the standards would not apply to them? The DRHE website states they will apply to all providers, including private providers. When will the new standards for private providers be published? Why will the NQFS not apply to private providers? When inspections take place, if there are no standards for private providers, what standards are they inspected against? Could Mr. Kenny address those questions first please?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

There was never a decision made not to have the NQFS apply to private providers. The standards framework was done at a time when most of the accommodation in the city was managed by NGOs. We are in the process of simply transferring the standards to suit the private emergency accommodation. The same kind of standards will apply. We inspect private accommodation on a regular basis. We respond to complaints very quickly. The inspections focus on the physical standards of the accommodation and issues such as fire safety. If we get complaints, we respond very quickly.

However, as I said earlier we are going to put this on a more professional footing now by getting an outside company to do it for us.

I do not understand why there would be a separate set of standards for private providers than for the NGOs and not-for-profit groups. It sounds to me as if there is a two-tier system being set up on this. There are a number of issues about the private hostels. There have, for example, been reports of a no chatting rule being implemented in a number of them whereby the residents are told they cannot talk to each other, which is an incredible breach of human rights. Is the DHRE aware of this? Does Mr. Kenny have a view on those sorts of rules? Are they acceptable in hostels funded by the DHRE or has the executive taken action on that?

How many single people who are in private hostels funded by the DHRE have a support plan in place?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We are not aware of any no talking rules like that. There is no such thing as far as we are concerned and if somebody hears of something like that they should just let us know and we will deal with it very quickly.

On the last issue about the support, that is the main difference between the NGOs and the private operators. The NGOs would have more of a support or welfare type service for the people living there. We have addressed that in more recent times. We took on 25 housing support officers recently. We recruited them for the first time. They did really good work with families. That is one of the reasons there are fewer families in emergency accommodation. I think we now have five of those housing support officers working full time with single people who are in private accommodation and they are already making a difference out there. We will continue with that.

I thank Mr. Kenny. How many single people in private accommodation funded by the DHRE have support plans? Does Mr. Kenny know the figure for that?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

I do not have it. Very few of them would have a support plan. That is what we are working on now. I think our support workers have dealt with 700 of them in the last couple of months.

It is very concerning that very few of them would have a support plan.

The final question I have is on the DHRE's report and the local connection. The report says that the DHRE makes dedicated beds available to the rough sleeper outreach team for people it encounters rough sleeping regardless of whether they are from the Dublin region. Am I to understand that if the outreach team meets people who are sleeping rough and cannot prove a local connection, it is able to place those people in accommodation? Is it the case that if the central placement service or the freefone worker has said the person is ineligible, the outreach team is still able to place those individuals in accommodation?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

Absolutely, yes.

Okay, that is great. What type of accommodation can the team place them in?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

It would be hostel accommodation. We have an unprecedented level of empty beds. On Sunday night we had 116 empty beds throughout the city. It means that for the first time in years we have a choice. If somebody who had a bad experience in a hostel wants to go somewhere else, we are now able to facilitate that. There is a diversity of accommodation throughout the city.

That is good to hear. Finally, can audited accounts be published by the DHRE, or does it publish same?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

The DHRE is not a separate public body; it is part of Dublin City Council. Therefore, all the accounts are part of the Dublin City Council accounts and they are accounted by the Local Government Audit Service and so on. We can publish separate accounts for the DHRE in the annual report we are going to publish in March. There is no difficulty with that.

I thank Mr. Kenny. I am finished. I thank all the witnesses for their work.

Following on from the Deputy's questions, if a resident in emergency accommodation or other private or public accommodation wishes to make a complaint about standards or treatment, can he or she make such a complaint anonymously?

Mr. Brendan Kenny


I thank Mr. Kenny. I call Deputy McAuliffe.

I thank all the witnesses participating today. It is probably important to point out that while this item has been on our work plan for some time, the "RTÉ Investigates” programme that was aired recently has focused the minds of the public on it. The stories of Joe, Natalie and Dan show the complexity with which Ms Leahy, Dr. Burns and many others in the homeless sector have been dealing for a long time. There is complexity and there are those with varying capacities to negotiate what is a very difficult process.

I echo Senator Moynihan's comments on having worked with Mr. Kenny and on all those in the homeless services. Mr. Kenny should note I was a little taken aback by the conversation I heard between Joe Nolan and the operator on the “RTÉ Investigates” programme because it did not reflect my general experience. I noted the words that were said. It is important to reflect on this. Joe Nolan started the call by stating his name and that he was looking for a bed for the night. A number of short questions, which were not broadcast, were asked and then Joe asked what the story was with getting somewhere for the night. The operator started his response with, "Wow, I can't book you anywhere here tonight." "Wow" is an extraordinary word to start a sentence with. Then Joe went on to say he was 59, pushing 60, and the operator responded, “Hang on a minute now. Excuse me, in fairness, you haven't rung here before. Exactly that’s the problem. I don’t need your story because, you know, you can ring the system any time." Joe then said, "You don’t need my story." The operator replied, "You have registered in Carlow so you should interact with them. Now that you are in Dublin we can’t do anything for you." “RTÉ Investigates” then indicated that the operator ended the call by hanging up. "We can’t do anything for you" does not reflect my experience of how the DRHE finishes a phone call. I am surprised by it. It is important that Mr. Kenny comment on it because people must have confidence in the service.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

Obviously, we welcome the programme. It has certainly put a spotlight on the whole complex issue and the issue of tents in the city, so we welcome that.

With regard to the telephone call, our people take over 200 calls a day. The one in question did not come up to the standard that would normally apply to the vast majority of calls. Only part of the call was played on the RTÉ programme. There was another bit in which the person was given a phone number for outreach. Regardless of that, it was just not good enough. We have apologised for that. We apologise again for it. It will not happen again. It is a very complex issue. It is not just about people coming from another part of the country; it is a tricky one. It is about eligibility and about the lockdown, in that people are not supposed to be travelling over 5 km. The bottom line is that even before the incident, or long before it, if people were genuinely homeless and we needed to do an assessment, we waited to do the assessment the next day, the following day or three days afterwards, and we would give accommodation. We did not get the balance right in a small number of cases, which we regret, but anybody who is in need of accommodation at the moment can get accommodation because we have beds. There was a very difficult time two or three years ago – I remember it well – when we did not have beds at all and when dozens of people were turned away every night regardless of where they were from. This year is different but Covid has really had a major bearing on the work we do. The call was just not good enough and we have to learn from that and make sure it never happens again.

I appreciate those comments. Mr. Kenny has given a commitment to the committee on the local connection not being a barrier, and he has also committed to publishing the inspection reports. Is that correct?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

That is correct.

Can I move on to two issues, namely, the one-bed units and HAP. The one-beds units are crucial to resolving this issue. All of us know that. We are aware of very successful cases in which homeless people have been placed in senior citizen complexes, particularly in the Dublin City Council area. Will the city council use the new single-stage approval process, for up to €6 million, to provide single-bed, senior citizen-type accommodation, particularly aimed at homeless people but also for the sector more broadly?

On the second issue, Dr. Burns might be able to comment. Half a billion euro is being spent on the housing assistance payment, HAP.

It is amazing that the people we use to negotiate that procurement are the most vulnerable in our society - the people with least capacity. I am taken aback that the State, the local authorities and some of the agencies have not come together to use HAP as a vehicle to fund more permanent accommodation. Has that been explored? I appreciate that HAP is not a solution and needs to be phased out. As a way of immediately funding the development of homeless accommodation it would be an available tool.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We need more one-bedroom units and more studio apartments. The vast bulk of local authority accommodation are three-bedroom and two-bedroom units for families. We need more of that. We need more Housing First. The figures in the report I gave show that 1,006 single individuals exited emergency accommodation in 2020 and 90 of those went to Housing First. We are making a difference. We need more of that. Stage 1 approval will help. There has been significant reliance on HAP which has been very successful. It is not a case of moving the money from HAP. There is also money to build houses; it is just that the process has been very slow. HAP needs to continue until we get the supply and then we can reduce the reliance on HAP. HAP has been very successful, particularly homeless HAP.

Would it be possible for Dr. Burns to answer that?

I am afraid we are out of time. We have six more speakers and only 30 minutes left. I will try to bring Deputy McAuliffe in again at the end if I can.

For years people who have become homeless in Cork have told me that they do not want to enter homeless emergency accommodation. These are people who are in recovery and are concerned that everyone is being mixed together in emergency accommodation. They are concerned about the risk of going back into addiction. Both in Cork and nationally, we need specific wrap-around services for those in addiction and recovery, those with mental health issues, women and young people to help them out of homelessness.

Dr. Burns touched on something earlier. There is no emergency HAP outside Dublin. In Cork because the HAP rates are too low and the rents are too high, people are prevented from getting out of homelessness and into accommodation.

I have one question for Dr. Burns and one for Ms Leahy. Does Dr. Burns believe that people working with homeless people and families should have specialist training in trauma to support people who may be traumatised by their experience of being homeless? Should that training be expanded to people working in local authorities and the Department of Social Protection?

Does Ms Leahy believe the Government is doing enough to end homelessness, especially for those sleeping on the street in the long term? What can be done to help those people?

Dr. Una Burns

I agree that front-line staff, social care workers and social workers should be trained in trauma-informed care. It is a vital intervention to acknowledge the trauma faced by the people we work with and recognise that the consequence of that trauma is how they act. Their challenging behaviour is not specifically targeted at anybody and they are not trying to be difficult. It is actually a natural response to significant trauma they have experienced their whole life. It is often a protection element.

Novas is a trauma-care training organisation. All our staff from our CEO to our kitchen staff are trained in trauma-informed care. Anybody who has interaction received enhanced training to support people who have had significant trauma and who come into our services. We have done some single site research on this which has proved that it has significantly reduced the number of serious incidents in our services so that staff are able to de-escalate incidents more quickly and support people to get into safe space, which is really important. It would be really helpful if that trauma-informed care approach were broadened out to the ancillary services that homeless people access.

For example, if someone is going from residential services to addiction services, mental health services or, as Deputy Gould said, social welfare, the local council or accessing housing, it is really helpful if they get the same treatment across the board. What is helpful for the clients is empowering for the staff because it gives them a sense of ability to do the job in a better way to support people.

In tandem with that, we need practical responses to support people and prevent unnecessary deaths in homeless services. As Professor O'Sullivan said, more deaths are occurring in homeless services than on the streets. We need naloxone to be rolled out to all homeless services, including low-, high- and medium-threshold services, so that we can prevent more people from dying from overdoses.

Given the significant increase this year in the number of people in our services who were self-harming, who had suicidal ideation and who were attempting suicide, we had to implement ligature training among our staff. Our staff members and front-line workers have ligature knives in the small first aid kits around their necks that they carry everywhere. They have had to use them and have had to cut people down. We need a broad spectrum of supports and they need to go across private service providers and emergency service providers. I will come back to the point on addiction.

I will leave it there because I am conscious of the time. I am sorry because I seem to have missed the email to submit my paper in advance. In any event, Deputy Gould is absolutely right. We need more targeted interventions and supports for people who come out of addiction treatment centres. If they have worked hard to recover and then go back into low threshold emergency accommodation, the risk to sobriety is serious. There is no progression for them and the risk of overdose is really high because the tolerance of drugs will have diminished in that period. We need more targeted services for people. We need small, integrated services that are attached to the treatment service for people who come out of treatment. This can give them a sense of progression and a chance to maintain sobriety and exit homelessness.

Ms Alice Leahy

It is good to hear from Deputy Gould in the real capital. Deputy Duffy mentioned mental health issues. I did not have a chance to address that matter. Our mental health services are not properly resourced. They never were, but they have to be. We have to look outside the medical model.

It goes without saying that staff working with people who are vulnerable need support. That is precisely why the title of my opening statement was, "Wasting Time with People?" We have to give time to staff to enable them to work with complex people. We owe it to the staff but we also owe it to the people who need to use the services. We had a training day in conjunction with Dublin City Council some years ago. It was effective in helping people to understand how we deal with someone who is different. Perhaps a person was not as complex as the Deputy had in mind. Anyway, we can only do that if we have training and support. We have guidelines for all our staff. We all work very much as a team. This is one of the issues in the whole area of homelessness. We need people with experience of life and living, people who have gone through the university of life, as well as the young people who are bright, caring and efficient. They can support each other to help the most vulnerable. Apart from the points made by the members, it requires going back to basics and working from that level. That is something all public representatives at any level can do, because they have contact with the people in the community. It is a problem of our times.

My thanks for the presentations that have been made this morning and the comprehensive answers that have been given as well. I am not going to sit here and pretend. It would be silly to say that we do not have a housing and homelessness crisis, but it is important that we acknowledge the progress that has been made on the issue, not only in Dublin but also in other urban centres.

We need to learn from the solutions that are working in other parts of our country. Unfortunately, the Opposition and elements of the media sometimes focus focused on the negatives around homelessness, without giving sufficient acknowledgement of or coverage to the positives. I have heard ad nauseam that, by every metric, the figures of homelessness are higher than every before. I tend to tear out the little bit of hair I have left on my head out because such assertions are simply not true. Last night, I read the figures that were presented by the DRHE very carefully last night. It was stated that at the end of December the number of families availing of temporary accommodation was at its lowest level since December 2015 and that the number of families living in hotels was at its lowest monthly level since 2014.

We are making progress and that is reflected in Waterford where I come from. Waterford City and County Council has been able to reduce the number of families in emergency accommodation by 93% in the period between 2017 and 2020 and the individual homeless figures by 55%. This was despite the fact that the number presentations effectively doubled in the same period. I am firmly of the belief that if that can be done in an urban centre like Waterford, then it can also be done in other urban centres. It would be useful to delve into how that has occurred. Professor O'Sullivan did not really have the time to go into great detail at the start of the meeting when he said that the figures for the south east had decreased dramatically. The reason that has happened is due to a combination of factors and a commitment to a collaborative and integrated approach to homelessness by the local authority, the HSE, NGOs and approved housing bodies and a focus on preventing homelessness, early intervention, tenancy sustainment and the place finder service. As mentioned by previous speakers, the homeless HAP uplift is an invaluable tool. However, the 20% uplift is not sufficient for single people and a more targeted approach with a 50% uplift would be more appropriate. It has really been the collaboration of all of the parties in an integrated homeless hub in Waterford that has prevented people from falling between the cracks. Do the witnesses agree that the time for operating in silos is at an end and that we need a collaborative approach whereby everyone is sitting in the same room?

Obviously, the elephant in the room is supply. We cannot achieve anything in the absence of supply. It is my opinion that the approved housing bodies and local authorities have to think outside the box in the context of delivering units. We cannot continue to have the utopian view that the only way to proceed is by means of direct builds, which are not a quick delivery method. The repair-and-lease scheme in County Waterford has been transformational in the delivery of one- and two-bed units. I am sure everyone involved in homeless services would agree that such delivery is key to addressing the homeless figures. In that context, 44% of the one- and two-bed units delivered by Waterford City and County Council in recent years were delivered through the scheme to which I refer. It is a crying shame that a scheme that has been proven to work is not being utilised to the full extent by other local authorities and approved housing bodies. It should not be the case that 45% of all repair-and-lease units in the country have been delivered in Waterford. There is a correlation between the use of the scheme, an increase in the number of one- and two-bed units in Waterford and a drastic reduction in the number of homeless people in emergency accommodation. Do our guests agree that county targets should be placed on local authorities and approved housing bodies for the use of the repair-and-lease scheme, particularly when, as I have just outlined, it is clearly working in Waterford?

The witnesses have only 45 seconds in which to answer.

They might provide a written response to Senator Cummins's question on whether targets should be set for local authorities.

Can I get a response to my question on the repair and lease scheme and its effectiveness?

Dr. Una Burns

The 44% return of all one- and two-bedroom units through the repair and lease scheme is fantastic. It should be a shining light for other local authorities. It is amazing.

On the Senator's comment regarding collaboration, collaboration between the DRHE, local authorities, the HSE and the voluntary bodies that provide homeless accommodation and ancillary services such as Safetynet, has been second to none during Covid-19. It has yielded excellent results in terms of containing Covid numbers in services and, in particular, moving people and families into secure tenancies during the pandemic. When we reflect on Covid-19 thus far, it has presented huge challenges for all of us but it has taught us many lessons. Working in collaboration has yielded better outcomes for our clients. We are all coming from different perspectives but first and foremost, our perspective is to provide better outcomes and shorter stays in homeless accommodation for people experiencing homelessness. The Covid-19 pandemic has helped us achieve that.

I thank Dr. Burns.

I suggest that the committee write to the Minister in light of those figures and ask that he put those targets in place for local authorities throughout the country.

Noted. I thank Senator Cummins. The next speaker is Deputy O'Donoghue.

No. I ask the Deputy to move to a more suitable location. While he is doing so, I would like to put a number of questions to Professor O'Sullivan. In his concluding remarks, Professor O'Sullivan said that homelessness can be ended by large-scale provision of State-funded social housing by local authorities and approved housing bodies. I ask him to comment on the housing policies over the past couple of years that he thinks have been most successful in that regard and on what policies he would concentrate. Professor O'Sullivan also referenced the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin in an international context. I ask him to elaborate on that point as I did not fully understand it.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

In regard to the number of rough sleepers, the most recent count was over a week in Dublin in November. Some 137 people were numerated in that week. The weekly count is a new methodology: previously, it was a one-night count. Based on the quarterly performance reports from Dublin, approximately 700 people sleep rough over a period of the quarter but the majority are in and out of shelters so it is not that they are exclusively rough sleeping. Despite some of the comments that people do not go into shelters, the vast majority of people who rough sleep also use shelters.

In regard to my concluding comment, it is very clear from the data relating to the number of people who entered emergency accommodation and exited it that the most successful and sustainable route out of homelessness is social housing tenancies. There is no doubt about that. The housing assistance payment, HAP, is very useful in helping to get people out of homelessness. There is no doubt about that but we know also that the private rented sector, because of the legal ability of landlords to terminate tenancies for a number of reasons that are provided for under legislation, is the biggest source of new entries into emergency accommodation. If we are serious about providing secure tenancies, we need to do it through the local authorities and approved housing bodies and utilising existing stock. An excellent report produced two years ago by Professor Michelle Norris and Dr. Aideen Hayden refers to the use of local authority stock and the disincentives that exist for local authorities to make maximum utilisation of stock. Homelessness is not that complex. There are a small number of individuals who have complex needs, but in terms of our response, it is not particularly complex.

We know the answers and we know what works for prevention. We know, from the majority of people who enter homelessness it is the provision of a secure tenancy that will resolve their issues. They do not need a huge amount of support. There is a small group that do need that support and we know Housing First works there. All of the things that we need to end homelessness are there.

On the overall numbers, our numbers are comparatively low. There is no other city like us that I am aware of in Europe even with different methodologies for counting. In England during Covid last March, they had to put 50,000 people into hotels from rough sleeping. This gives an indication of the scale of rough sleeping in England versus our numbers here. We have had the trade-off. We have had a massive increase in the numbers of shelter beds in Dublin but it has had the impact of massively reducing the necessity to sleep rough that we see in other European cities.

I thank Professor O'Sullivan. I want to ask Mr. Kenny about the reduction in the use of Airbnb and the planning regulations that were brought in there. Has that freed up the numbers and the ability to acquire housing and accommodation?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

It certainly has helped. We were able to get nearly 100 self-contained apartments very quickly after the first surge of Covid. These are still in use and this allowed us to take families with children out of hotels and put them into far more suitable accommodation. We would like to buy them or have a long-term lease. Currently we have a 12-month contract on the properties, which is the most we could get. We will expect to be able to extend that but we would certainly like to buy. All during 2019 and 2020 we were doing 200 homeless HAP tenancies every month but from October, November, December and even into January this has gone up to 300 every month. This would make a difference out there also. It has made a difference. While it has not resulted in us actually acquiring additional properties, it certainly has helped in respect of the short-term and the HAP tenancies.

I have one minute left, I would like to direct a question to Ms Leahy about her comments on early intervention being really key in a lot of these issues. Has Ms Leahy seen improvements in early intervention methods or ways of doing this over the years of her experience?

Ms Alice Leahy

It all boils down to building a relationship with the people one comes across. Where people have been committed to give an enormous amount of time to help people to move on it works. We must be prepared to accept the fact that there are people who have complex needs and people are required to support and help them, very often over a long time. I am reminded of the quote from the Scottish poet Andrew Lang of over 100 years ago. When asked for a definition of a statistic he said "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts ... for support rather than illumination.” Behind every statistic is a human being, and people have complex needs. It is really much more about the kind of society we are living in. In homelessness we end up seeing people who do not feel part of that society and who must be encouraged to get back into it. This takes time. Services must be supported to give people that time.

I thank our guests for their contributions and statements, and most of all for the extraordinary work they carry out all of the time. It is really quite remarkable. People are cared for in the State due to the extraordinary work that is ongoing.

Early this morning the Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network ran a forum on sexual abuse and trauma. One of the contributors there spoke about the inextricable link between trauma and homelessness. Picking up on Ms Leahy's comments about young people and the need for wraparound services, support and time, I was involved in a very early Foyer project in Dublin with Mr. Brendan Kenny, who was incredibly supportive.

The project is for young people coming out of care and is now run by Depaul. I wonder about the amount of that supported sheltered housing, involving independent living with wraparound services, that is available. Are we seeing those sort of developments coming through and what part will they play?

My second question is on Airbnb. With the lack of tourism and availability, those sort of properties have come back onto the market. Is there any indication of the percentages of those that are being used for the increased numbers of people exiting homelessness and moving into secure accommodation? I would be keen to know how we would support that in terms of a strengthening of rules and building on what the previous Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, put in place.

I very much understand the logic of the DRHE in having the local connection. When the homeless agency was first started around 2000, we all visited Vienna where we spoke to people in its homeless services. We heard how they put people who arrive in Vienna who are not from Vienna on trains and send them home because they are better dealt with locally where they have family supports. I have two questions arising from that. First, what if somebody genuinely wants to come to Dublin because, for a variety of complex reasons, he or she may need to get away from the place he or she is coming from? How do we support that and allow someone to do so in a situation where there will not be a local connection? I appreciate that the rules are suspended during the pandemic but post Covid we need to know that someone who is homeless has a right to change city or town in our country and that we have a pathway to provide for that. My memory of the service in Vienna is that a person was given a pack, his or her train fare was paid and he or she was given supports to get home. People were not just told "No". I am keen to hear about what is in place, if anything, in Dublin.

Are those questions directed to a particular witness?

Mr. Kenny and perhaps Dr. Burns are probably best placed to answer them, and also Ms Leahy. Mr. Kenny is probably best placed to answer.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

I thank the Senator. This issue was brought up by Deputy Gould earlier. The DRHE is nearly the last resort now for accommodation. For a prisoner coming out of Mountjoy Prison or somebody coming out of hospital, it is not a great solution that he or she would go straight into a hostel. Putting a young lad who has come up from the country and is getting into drugs straight into a hostel in Dublin city is not the best thing to do either. We have to be conscious of that. If somebody wants to come up from the country, it is difficult. There is a local connection in the housing system. Anybody who is in our hostels at the moment and has got emergency accommodation does not qualify for homeless HAP or to be on the housing list. The only way they can qualify for homeless HAP or to be on the housing lists is if they go back to their own local authority which can look after them. There is no doubt that if somebody just wants to come to Dublin that is a difficult one, and it is very difficult to get accommodation.

The Foyer project the Senator mentioned is a very good concept. We would certainly like to see more of that. I have forgotten the last question.

Do we give these people packs? If somebody is being sent back home, do we pay his or her train fare?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

Yes we do, and we interact with the local authority and the social services in the area. We get accused of turning people away but we are actually engaging in prevention. We are trying to prevent people going into emergency accommodation because if they go into emergency accommodation, particularly in Dublin, they could be stuck. We try to coax them to go back to their own area. If they refuse to go back they will get accommodation but we do our level best to get them back to where they have the social services and a family.

What about Airbnb?

Are there statistics on that? I had to leave briefly for another meeting so I missed part of this discussion. I apologise for any duplication.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

We have taken advantage of that. Initially we got 100 self-contained apartments in the city that were formerly Airbnb. We are still using them. That allowed us to move families and children out of hotels. We are doing an average of 300 homeless HAP tenancies every month where previously we were struggling to make 200. The result has been the disappearance of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Can we get into long-term leases with the owners to secure those properties?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

That is what we are trying to do. Many landlords and owners are still hoping things will change quickly and they can get back to the original business. We would be very open to a long-term lease and to buying them. At the moment, we have short-term arrangements and we have taken advantage of that.

Three members are indicating. I ask Deputy Duffy to keep to a minute for the question and answer.

I asked Mr. Kenny a question on people being refused. It may have been answered already and it may be resolved by the Minister's actions. I think Mr. Kenny was going to answer it earlier.

Mr. Brendan Kenny

People are not being refused. If someone from any part of the country comes to Dublin and contacts the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, he or she will get emergency accommodation. We will work with the local authority and the services locally but while we are waiting, they will be given emergency accommodation.

I have two quick questions for Mr. Kenny. Why is the DRHE choosing to use a private company for the inspections rather than an independent body such as HIQA? Will those inspections be of all emergency accommodation, public and private?

I completely agree with Professor O'Sullivan's comments on deaths of people experiencing homelessness. The concern of many of us is that there is a small cohort of people who live at the intersection of homelessness, mental ill health and addiction. The numbers of those people who have died in the last year is twice what it was the previous year, based on the data we have. Is that a concern and what do we need to do to address that?

Mr. Brendan Kenny

On the inspections, we have no difficulty whatever with HIQA monitoring or inspecting emergency accommodation. It does not have that role at the moment. It would be a matter for the Government to decide to give it that role. We will be advertising for expressions of interest so if there is another agency, possibly one that is not a private company, which is prepared to do that, we will consider it.

Professor Eoin O'Sullivan

Of course, the increase in the number of deaths is a concern, but as Deputy Ó Broin pointed out, the cohort of homeless people who have those complex needs is a relatively small proportion of those experiencing homelessness. We know that the ultimate solution is Housing First, which is being rolled out. The protocols Mr. Kenny has put in place with Dr. Austin O'Carroll for reviewing these deaths could be done on a national basis. However, rather than focusing on the conditions people are in at the moment, we know how we exit those people from homelessness and into secure tenancies.

Dr. Burns wishes to come in.

Dr. Una Burns

In response to Deputy Ó Broin's questions on the number of people who have died in homeless services this year, I will refer to some of our experiences on the ground. The double payment of social welfare, which thankfully has ceased, was a significant issue for people in addiction because they were using incredible amounts in the first week which led to an increase in the number of overdoses. For example, in McGarry House in Limerick during the first lockdown, the number of times we administered naloxone more than doubled compared with 2019 because of the number of overdoses due to the double payment. That was a significant issue and probably increased the number of deaths this year.

It is difficult to see what we can do about a second problem we have. We are encouraging clients to socially distance and stay in their rooms on their own to prevent the spread of Covid but that leads to people using on their own and overdosing on their own.

It is counter-intuitive sometimes to try to separate people. They might be safer in their own community. Notwithstanding all the addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis issues that homeless people face every year, this year there were things that were felt more acutely because of Covid. When we come out of it, hopefully we will see a decline in such issues. Those are some observations from the ground.

I will follow up in emails. I thank all the witnesses. Their contributions have been valuable and I thank them for helping us with our work. I hope we can revisit this subject again in the not too distant future as a committee.

I thank the Senator. We have run out of time. We are constrained by Covid regulations to limit the meeting to two hours. I thank the witnesses for their engagement and considerable experience across all aspects of this difficult and complex issue. There are many other groups and volunteers out there working in this sector and, as Senator Fitzpatrick said, I hope the committee will revisit the issue. There are other groups I hope we could invite in to hear their experiences and the possible solutions they may offer to the issue.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.01 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 2 February 2021.