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Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage debate -
Tuesday, 8 Feb 2022

Interim Report on Homelessness: Discussion

We meet to review progress on the committee's interim report on homelessness, which was published last year. I apologise for the delay in starting the meeting. The Order of Business in the Dáil delayed some of us. The Seanad is sitting so Senators may have to go in and out as Seanad business requires.

We are joined from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage by Ms Caroline Timmons, assistant secretary, and Ms Rosemary Tobin, principal officer for homelessness policy; and from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, by Ms Mary Hayes, director, and Mr. John Durkan, deputy director. We are joined remotely by two representatives from Waterford City and County Council, Ms Sinéad Breathnach, homeless lead for the south-east region, and Mr. Ivan Grimes, director of services; and by Patrick O'Sullivan, principal officer for social policy from the Department. Members have been circulated with the briefing documents and opening statements from the witnesses.

I will first ask witnesses to give their opening statements and keep them to about five minutes because we are quite constrained on time. Then we will go to members' questions and answers slots, which will be six minutes each. We should be able to fit everybody into the two hours.

I remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of the place where the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, in order to participate in public meetings. Those attending remotely from within the Leinster House complex are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contribution to today's meeting. This means that they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House complex, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person who is physically present within the Leinster House complex.

Both members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy and it is my duty as Chair to ensure that it is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members and witnesses 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.

The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after the meeting. Our witnesses are welcome to assist us as we continue our work in the area of homelessness. When the committee formed in July or August 2020, it was an item every member wished to address. It was high on our agenda and still is. I thank the witnesses for their assistance. I ask them to make their statements. I will start with Ms Timmons, go on to Ms Hayes and then to Ms Breathnach.

Ms Caroline Timmons

Good afternoon Chair, members of the committee and the staff of the secretariat. I thank the joint committee for inviting the Department to discuss the committee's interim report on homelessness and the recommendations made therein. I am accompanied by my colleague, Ms Rosemary Tobin, principal officer with responsibility for homelessness policy, funding and delivery, and Mr. Patrick O'Sullivan is online. He is principal officer with responsibility for Traveller accommodation. The Department works closely with DHRE and local authorities and I am pleased to see the local government sector in attendance. It also works closely with many of the NGOs doing great work in the area.

Resolving homelessness is one of the most important challenges facing the State. Housing for All is the Government's plan to meet our overall aim of ensuring everyone in the State has access to a home to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and in the right place, offering a high quality of life.

The plan enumerates more than 200 actions across four pathways which will collectively address housing issues, and all of those actions will contribute to creating a housing system that meets the needs of our people. The State has committed €20 billion in funding over the next five years to achieve those aims. The plan recognises that housing policy must address the needs of socially excluded members of society and that the issue of homelessness is one of the most pressing of our time. The State made an overarching commitment at European level through signing the Lisbon Declaration on Combatting Homelessness and has committed again in Housing for All to working towards ending homelessness by 2030. This will be done through a number of actions, including by increasing the overall supply of housing. The plan aims to deliver 300,000 homes between now and the end of 2030, including 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable homes and 18,000 cost rental homes. While all of the actions in the plan will have a bearing on this issue, particularly those on the supply of social housing, which is essential to addressing homelessness, in pathway 2 of the plan we clearly set out specific actions that will directly address homelessness. There are 17 recommendations in the interim report and I am happy to note that Housing for All includes actions which reflect many of the recommendations made by this committee in the interim report.

I will update the committee on some of the recent progress made and I am happy to discuss any of the recommendations in more detail during the meeting. The most recent monthly and quarterly homeless reports produced by the Department show that there was a decrease in the numbers accessing emergency accommodation in December 2021, down to 8,914, and the figure is 15% below the peak in October 2019. However, the trend in 2021 was an overall increase on the 2020 figures and this remains a serious concern for the Government and for my Department. In terms of recent progress, and this particularly relates to one of the interim report recommendations, the Housing First national implementation plan was published on 20 December 2021. This outlined our target to provide over 1,300 new supported social housing tenancies and to build on successes under this programme. We are also driving better co-ordination in policy measures and actions, and a new national homeless action committee has been established. All of the key Government Departments, agencies and stakeholders are involved. A key first task for the committee is homelessness prevention. It met again yesterday and will continue to meet monthly.

Work has begun on the development of a national youth homelessness strategy. Preparing this strategy will involve co-operation and co-ordination between our Department and our colleagues at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; Tusla, the Child and Family Agency; and local authorities. Greater cohesion between actions locally and policy nationally is also being advanced. New guidance was issued in December to local authorities on the preparation of local homelessness action plans. In tandem with the expansion of Housing First, Housing for All commits to expanding street outreach nationwide into urban areas, where rough sleeping is a concern. There are specific measures to support rough sleepers into sustainable accommodation. The Department of Health and the HSE, in Housing for All, have committed to ensuring that individual healthcare plans will be put in place for all homeless individuals who need them.

The Department has continued to invest in important services both to prevent homelessness and accelerate exits, including the HAP placefinder service, which is playing a vital role in keeping individuals out of homelessness, and in housing those who find themselves in emergency accommodation. We continue to fund Threshold’s tenancy protection service, which provides advice and support to individuals, couples and families living in private rented accommodation experiencing tenancy problems. It must be acknowledged that some families have been living in homelessness for lengthy periods and this is an area we need to focus on. Housing for All commits the Department to working with local authorities and NGOs to identify families experiencing long-term homelessness that have complex support needs. Those that do will be provided with enhanced tenancy sustainment supports to help them exit homelessness and maintain their homes. Additional supports are to be provided to families by Tusla.

The priority of the Department and local authorities continues to be to get people out of emergency accommodation. However, it remains critical that all emergency accommodation, whether NGO or private, operates to a high standard and actions are being taken to ensure this. A national quality standards framework, NQSF, has been put in place for services delivered by NGOs under contract to local authorities. The aim of the NQSF is to have it applied to all services for those experiencing homelessness. Taken together, these actions represent a significant and expanding level of interventions to support individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness. My Department is committed to ending homelessness and we thank all of the organisations involved that are working hard to help those at risk of, or experiencing homelessness. We will continue to drive all of the actions in Housing for All, which will be essential if we are to make progress. I thank members for their time and attention and my colleagues and I are happy to answer any questions they may have.

Ms Mary Hayes

Part 1 of my submission was just some general context on the work of the DRHE so I will go straight to an update on the recommendations relevant to the DRHE. Recommendation 3 is on Housing First. The target of 273 tenancies for the Dublin region from 2018 to 2021 was met and exceeded. There were 414 tenancies created in the Dublin from 2018 to end October 2021. The DRHE is strongly supportive of Housing First. Recommendation 7 is for a methodology to be agrees for recording the deaths of people experiencing homelessness. The DRHE met the Department of Health and the HSE on this and it was agreed that the DRHE will cease reporting on deaths in homelessness and will co-operate fully with the Health Research Board’s, HRB’s, national pilot on mortality in homelessness. The HRB will be the first point of contact for future research in this area as it collects and analyses data from all coronial files. The pilot on national homeless deaths will inform the permanent structures for the recording and monitoring of trends. The HRB will provide the evidence on which State agencies can make recommendations on what can be termed as preventable deaths among people who were homeless at the time of death.

Recommendation 8 is on trauma-informed care. The HSE is supporting the DRHE with training of our staff and staff in the sector in the area of trauma-informed care, among other training inputs which we will come to. Recommendation 10 is on inspections. The DRHE placed a tender to source an independent inspectorate for all homeless accommodation facilities on the E-tenders website in June 2021. That process finished in December 2021, unsatisfactorily, as the tender process did not identify a suitable entity to undertake this role. The inspection tender was changed and reviewed and the new one has been advertised on the etenders website since Monday, 7 February. In advance of that tender development, the then deputy chief executive, Brendan Kenny, had instructed Dublin Fire Brigade, DFB, to begin inspections in all homeless facilities, including both NGO and private emergency accommodation, PEA, facilities. DFB risk-assessed all property files and identified 38 for physical inspection. All inspections and any consequential remediation works required have been completed. We had an in-house inspection team pre-Covid and we have resumed inspections for now until the tender process concludes.

Recommendation 11 is on the NQSF and its application to PEA. A process for the implementation of the NQSF to PEA has begun. As with the previous roll-out to NGO services, a developmental approach is being taken. The first phase is to introduce a framework of standards, focused on the quality of the accommodation and what the resident can expect from the facility and its staff. The standards for PEA were presented to the joint consultative forum in the Dublin region and to the management group in September 2021 and they were adopted. We are due to appoint a staff member this month who has previous NGO experience of rolling out quality standards. She will begin the process of rolling out the first developmental standards and will build up incrementally as we get the PEA operators used to the idea, trained in the idea and understanding of what the NQSF will involve. A tender is under development for the operation of DCC-owned or long-term leased buildings and we will be requesting tenders for the operation and management to include full facility and care and case management for those buildings.

We appointed a dedicated complaints officer as members will see in the report and I would like to give some context for this. In 2020 some 576 complaints were received by NGOs and 133 were received on PEAs. That is reflective of the fact that over a long period of time the NGOs have had well-developed complaints procedures and that we are just starting to promote PEA. I am confident that by the end of this year we will have a robust complaintsprocedure across all our services in a number of languages and that trust will be built in the service. A joint project with HSE Dublin north city and county social inclusion team and the DRHE has been established to develop the skills of emergency accommodation providers. Training is being rolled out in the following areas: first aid; naloxone and overdose awareness; suicide awareness and prevention; trauma-informed care; children first; safeguarding of vulnerable adults; intercultural diversity; and equality and diversity.

Recommendation 12 is on NGOs having the capacity to tender for the provision of emergency accommodation.

As of Monday, 17 January, the DRHE had put out a tender for emergency accommodation on the eTenders website. We have contacted all the NGO services to encourage participation in the request for tender. Since I came into the post in March last year, I have met with all the main homeless charities. I have actively encouraged and agreed we will support proposals for supported accommodation for families and singles experiencing homelessness.

Recommendation 13 relates to the phasing out of private emergency accommodation, which the DHRE fully supports. We support housing solutions to homelessness, in particular Housing First. It as much a priority for us as for anyone else.

Recommendation 14 refers to the Minister developing a plan for an adequate supply of emergency accommodation and to reverse the over-concentration in places such as Dublin Central. We have split our tender for accommodation into five lots. We have sought properties across the region and we are actively trying to encourage properties in a balanced development of homeless services across the Dublin region.

Recommendation 15 relates to the use of private security. It is used in very limited circumstances, usually where we have received complaints about congregation outside a facility, and is not involved in the management of the service. NGOs, private emergency operators and the DHRE in Parkgate Hall have private security to manage extreme episodes where there have been issues. It is not all the time and I regard its use as quite limited.

I will take recommendations 16 and 17 together because the latter is just an iteration of all the supports. On recommendation 16, since the Covid-19 pandemic, the DHRE and the HSE have been working extremely closely together. We already had an assigned key worker in place for all families. We are now working to extend that to single homeless people and those in PEA. Housing support officers, funded by the Department, are covering people who just have a housing need. The HSE has started funding in-reach services that are providing care and case management. We are building that up all the time.

I thank Ms Hayes for that update. I invite Ms Breathnach to make her opening statement.

Ms Sinéad Breathnach

I thank committee members for the invitation to join this meeting to share some of our experiences and progress on addressing homelessness in Waterford and the south-east region. I have included a report that addresses the relevant recommendations from the Interim Report on Homelessness from a south-east perspective. The report also outlines some of the national and regional initiatives implemented in the south east, which have helped us in bringing about a collaborative and consistent approach to addressing homelessness and providing better housing, social and health outcomes for our service users.

Some of our regional initiatives are currently subject to a case study by the Housing Agency for inclusion in a policy and practice insights paper, with a view to promoting them as best practice. They include the review and strengthening of our regional structures, our innovative own-front-door model of emergency accommodation, the introduction of homeless prevention and support workers to local authority homeless teams, and the use of care and case management throughout all our services. The care and case management framework is used to identify the support needs of our service users and to address issues that may have caused or contributed to their homelessness in the first instance. This framework is embedded throughout our services and is key to preventing rebound homelessness in the region, where our priority focus is on homeless prevention and tenancy sustainment.

Much progress has been made in the region on addressing and managing homelessness over the past number of years, which is mainly due to a significant shift in culture where the local authorities, the HSE and the homeless service providers have committed to working together in preventing and addressing homelessness and in improving the health, social and housing outcomes for our service users. Having that strong partnership approach has enabled us to be more proactive, progressive and innovative in managing the homeless crisis and has had a substantial positive impact in the region. I acknowledge the dedication and commitment of all involved. I very much recommend and promote this partnership approach to managing homelessness.

We have approximately 90 minutes and about nine or ten members are present. If we try to stick to six minutes, we should be fine. For the benefit of witnesses, that is six minutes for questions and answers.

There is so much for us to cover in such a short period. I felt some sympathy for Ms Hayes as she tried to deal with all her recommendations. I have no doubt we will try to tease all of them out in our questioning. I will go straight to that. There has been a decrease in the number of people sleeping rough, from 139 to 94. Every person makes a difference. In respect of recommendation three, there seems to be an increase, beyond what was expected, in the number of Housing First tenancies created. Will Ms Hayes talk to us about the process relating to where the reduction in rough sleeping has occurred? How has it occurred? How has the creation of Housing First tenancies been successful in increasing the number to 414, to date?

Ms Mary Hayes

The two things are completely linked in respect of the reduction in rough sleeping. Last year, 61 tenancies were created, specifically in Dublin City Council, under Housing First. I recognise the names of those tenants. We review them at the end of every year and those names are well known to us; they are people we have known for years in the services. Housing First has been fantastic and has received major support. There are difficulties with bedding it down in some communities, but in the city centre we have access to one-bedroom accommodation. When we reach out to communities to say what we are trying to do, people have been incredibly supportive of Housing First and its outcomes. That can be seen with the tenancy sustainments.

On the reduction in homeless numbers, we have to pay tribute to Dublin Simon for its role, which has been fantastic, and the Peter McVerry Trust in terms of the intake team. Both those teams are contributing. They are telling us what the person wants and what it will take for that person to come off the street. That kind of bespoke response is producing results we were not getting previously when it was just the same. Sometimes, we were offering the same accommodation all the time and people were not responding to it.

One of the concerns we had about the provision of emergency accommodation related to NQSF standards for public and private accommodation. Under recommendation 11, Ms Hayes talked about a process, but I did not think there was a timeline for the establishment of an NQSF for private operators. Is it possible to put a timeline on that now?

Ms Mary Hayes

I was involved in the development of the NQSF for NGOs the first time around. We started that in 2014 and the full national roll-out was in 2019. We will be much faster now because we already have the standards we want. Our timeline for the first roll-out includes an introduction and training. We have to get that because otherwise private operators will not understand it. We have to bring them into the process. That first process of rolling out the first standards will take a year. We will have the standards ready for the second phase of the higher and more integrated level by next year. That is our intention.

What happens to the monitoring of standards for providers in the interim?

Ms Mary Hayes

At present, we have a quality standards team based in the DHRE. Four people are working in that team. Until now, they have worked exclusively on NGO properties, but they will now also apply what are modified standards for private providers because, again, we are at the starting blocks with PEA. That team will monitor and manage the quality standards for PEA. That will be supplemented across all facilities, both NGO and private emergency, by the independent inspectorate.

There appear to be two sets of standards for two different types of providers. Will they be broadly similar? Will there be a difference between public and private? This committee is of the view that they should not be different and the same standards should apply regardless of who operates a service.

Ms Mary Hayes

I agree completely with the Deputy. The only question is how we get there. Again, I point out the fact that when we started with NGOs, we had quite a long lead-in time and we developed standards with them. Standards should not be suddenly planted on private emergency operators, if they do not understand the context or how to apply them. Training and development, whether it is done through HIQA, the DHRE or whoever, will apply.

The same set of standards will apply to public and private operators at the point of final implementation.

Ms Mary Hayes

Exactly. I will add that in the interim we have visiting support services going into facilities. Those services are subject to the full suite of NQSF standards. The role of those services is care and case management, health, and case management supports within the services.

My time is, unfortunately, expiring. At this point, are there any significant concerns that arose from the inspection by Dublin Fire Brigade that Ms Hayes talked about?

Ms Mary Hayes

No. As is always the case, remediation works were required for some properties. The last time I checked, everything has been completed in those 38 properties.

How many properties required remediation works?

Was that 20% of all operators?

Ms Mary Hayes

Yes, all operators.

A total of 20% of all operators were identified as needing some remedial construction works.

Ms Mary Hayes

Yes, and that ranged from quite small works to more advanced-----

They have all been closed as individual cases. Is that correct?

Ms Mary Hayes


Was there resistance from the sector? Was there more resistance from public or private operators? Ms Hayes spoke about a different culture. Would she like to comment further on that?

Ms Mary Hayes

It is important, in terms of the quality of standards, that people understand and get behind it because that will ultimately lead to more effective implementation.

The last point I will make is that there was significant concern around the origin of people in the context of homelessness. The Minister made a very clear commitment that people's point of origin would not be something that barred them from accessing emergency accommodation. Could Ms Hayes restate the DRHE's commitment to that? I ask her to verify that, regardless of where people who become homeless are from, if they are in need of emergency accommodation on a given evening, they can avail of it from the DRHE.

Ms Mary Hayes

I can state that but I would also say that when we are assessing an applicant who comes to us from another local authority, there are numerous factors that we have to consider. We have to consider, for example, whether the person has built up years on another local authority waiting list. Last week we had someone who was under consideration for Housing First in a county area, who then came to Dublin-----

Yes, but they are not kept on the street in order to satisfy those concerns.

Ms Mary Hayes

No, we accommodate. There are times when we would encourage people to go back to their local authority but no one is refused accommodation on that basis.

Deputy Andrews is next.

I thank Ms Hayes for her presentation. It is good to see her again.

Dormitory-style emergency accommodation is a big issue and one that is raised with me regularly. The Mendicity Institution conducted a survey recently. I should declare an interest here as I worked with the institution for about four years. The aforementioned survey showed that nearly 90% of people staying in emergency accommodation experienced crime. What is being done to move away from dormitory-style accommodation? I spoke to an individual last week who told me that he slept in an emergency dormitory and when he woke in the morning, the person in the bed next to him was injecting heroin. He is trying to get himself straight but is surrounded by drug use. This style of accommodation is really distressing and makes it very difficult for people to get clean. What is being done to ensure that dormitory-style accommodation is phased out because it just does not work?

Ms Mary Hayes

I do not disagree with Deputy Andrews. We have only used dormitory-style accommodation because we had to at times when we suddenly had to increase capacity. Obviously, we minimised the amount of dormitory accommodation we used during Covid and our intention is to keep those standards and try to improve rather than step backwards in that regard. In terms of dormitories, we have a minimal number at this stage. There are only five properties where people are sharing a room with more than four people. Again, the vast majority of our accommodation is moving towards one and two bedroom units with two people sharing. We agree with Deputy Andrews and support his argument but we have to manage, on a nightly basis, the risk of someone rough sleeping versus being able to offer a bed. We agree that minimising the use of dormitories is the most favourable solution.

Is there no way to ensure that people who are in a chaotic addiction phase of their lives are not sharing a room with people who are making a serious effort to get clean? Obviously that scenario is not working for either party.

Ms Mary Hayes

In the private emergency accommodation and also in the supported temporary accommodation, STA, we get regular requests from people to move out because it is inappropriate. The NGOs tend to manage that themselves. They tend to know the people and tend to move them around. That is also done in the private emergency accommodation. The Ana Liffey Drug Project is going into the private emergency accommodation services now and would frequently come back to us with advice on sharing arrangements, what is appropriate and so on. Accommodation for people who have no addiction needs does exist. Crosscare provides a temporary emergency accommodation service in Amiens Street which is highly successful. It is for people whose only need is for alternative accommodation.

Is there enough of that type of accommodation? I do not think there is enough.

Ms Mary Hayes

We also fund beds in the Iveagh Hostel which is safe, own-door accommodation and I understand there is still capacity there on a nightly basis.

On the issue of inter-county transfers, homelessness does not recognise boundaries. It is my understanding that people who are not from Dublin but who find themselves homeless in Dublin cannot access emergency accommodation. If they use the free phone number, they find it extremely challenging if they are not from Dublin and have not got a local link. I appreciate what Ms Hayes said about getting them an offer of accommodation in Waterford, Cork or wherever they are from but if they are homeless in Dublin, they need to be accommodated in Dublin. It is my understanding that this is still not happening.

Ms Mary Hayes

It is happening. People are being accommodated from outside.

Is everyone being accommodated? Are there exceptions?

Ms Mary Hayes

No, not that I am aware of.

I have heard otherwise so it would be important to state-----

Ms Mary Hayes

I can say on the record that we absolutely accept the point-----

Nobody will be refused tonight or any night this week who is homeless in Dublin-----

Ms Mary Hayes

We do not refuse the offer of emergency accommodation but we do make an assessment. We have to take cognisance of issues that an independent agency may not be aware of. A prison discharge, for example, may have an impact on services and we have to take that into consideration. We must consider where that person was intended to be discharged to. There are factors of which we need to be careful.

There are, therefore, people who are refused-----

Ms Mary Hayes

No, there are people who are part of a process, for example, people leaving prison whose conviction means that they can only be accommodated in certain areas or people who have conditions attached to their release. That may not be known to the emergency accommodation service or the NGO working with that person but it would be known to us. In a case like that, where there are certain conditions attached to someone's release, that is information we might know-----

That person could be refused.

Ms Mary Hayes

Yes, he or she could be refused. I would not rule out the possibility that there are exceptional cases but, in general, people would not be refused. Certainly people would not be refused on the basis of being from another county.

I am interested in the phasing out of the use of private emergency accommodation because in a way, its use is like privatising homelessness. Ms Hayes has said she agrees with that. Where is the obstacle in that case? Where is the block to that happening?

Ms Mary Hayes

I believe we are getting there. As the supply line increases, our first target will be private emergency accommodation. The NGOs are poised and ready and some of them have already drawn up plans to convert their emergency accommodation into long-term accommodation. They are working hard on that. We hope to be able to reduce our dependence on private emergency accommodation but we can only do that through a steady supply of housing alternatives.

Are financial resources an issue?

Ms Mary Hayes

I can genuinely say that is not something we are finding. It is not a financial resources issue.

Is it the lack of housing supply?

Ms Mary Hayes

Yes. I hope we will catch up. Obviously, in Dublin it is critical for us to catch up. As supply is coming on stream, I am confident that this year will be better than last year.

What is the timescale for eradicating the use of private providers? How long are we talking about?

Ms Mary Hayes

I certainly would be hoping to reduce our dependence on private emergency accommodation but I would be wary of putting a timescale on it. All I can say is that I am fully committed to reducing our dependence on private emergency accommodation.

Will that happen this year?

Sorry, Deputy, but you have gone well over time and I want to be fair to everybody else. Senator Cummins is next.

I will jump straight in and follow on from where Deputy Andrews left off. Has leasing played an important role in reducing reliance on emergency accommodation? Is it not better to have someone in accommodation under a secure 15 or 20 year lease rather than in HAP or emergency accommodation?

Ms Mary Hayes

I am certainly in favour of leasing and I feel the same way about HAP in a sense. I recognise all of the risks in terms of security of tenure and understand the nervousness around value for money with social housing versus leased housing but my comparison is with the cost of emergency accommodation. It is extremely important that the DRHE has as many housing options available as possible to prevent homelessness and help people to exit homelessness as quickly as possible. Any tenure that allows people to build up a life, access schools and so on is preferable to homelessness.

Absolutely, I could not agree more with Ms Hayes. That is an important message. It is often lost in the arguments that are made in here at committee and also in the Dáil and Seanad Chambers, and in the media ultimately. It is about people and finding them solutions so that they can improve and better their lives.

I thank Ms Hayes and Ms Timmons, and Ms Breathnach, in particular, and all of their teams for the work that is going on in this space. Specifically, I thank Ms Breathnach, who, obviously, being from Waterford, I know best, for the work that is going on there in terms of reducing homelessness and the demand on emergency accommodation.

I have a question on the repair and lease scheme, which has been heavily taken up by Waterford. It has provided a lot of one and two-bedroom accommodation, predominantly in the city centre. Has that been an important supply line for Waterford City and County Council in assisting in this space? I would appreciate it if Ms Breathnach could talk about the best practice that she cited the Housing Agency was working at. I note Waterford has an integrated homeless hub for anybody to come to who is either experiencing homelessness or threatened with facing homelessness and it has all agencies operating in the one location. Perhaps Ms Breathnach can elaborate. It has proved an important successful model for Waterford.

Ms Sinéad Breathnach

I thank Senator Cummins. To answer his question on the repair and leasing scheme, anything that increases the supply line specifically for homelessness is more than welcome. In Waterford, there definitely has been a significant uptake in the repair and leasing. As a result, our stock and supply has increased, which has helped us to even eliminate the use of private emergency accommodation, and using our own properties and stock as own-front-door emergency accommodation in lieu of it. That is certainly welcome.

In relation to the best practice and the Housing Agency's casework at present, it is hitting on a few points there. One is in relation to the Waterford integrated homeless services which we operate here in Waterford. It is a local authority-led initiative but we operate in partnership with the HSE, with Focus Ireland and with South East Simon Community in addressing the needs of those who are homeless or those who are facing homelessness. We have combined our resources and expertise all under one roof in order that the client is coming in to nearly a one-stop-shop for homelessness here in Waterford. We have seen a significant uptake in the service, with approximately 3,600 households per year availing of it since we opened in early 2019.

Another initiative that the Housing Agency is looking at is the own-front-door model of emergency accommodation in lieu of the use of bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels. Something we as a region have prioritised over the past few years is the reduction of private emergency accommodation. That would not happen without the collaborative working between ourselves, the local authorities and the NGOs here in Waterford, particularly Focus Ireland and Tinteán Housing Association.

Has that reduced or eliminated the need for bed and breakfast accommodation?

Ms Sinéad Breathnach

Yes. In Waterford, we have eliminated the need. We last used bed and breakfast accommodation in September 2019 because of this initiative. As a region, we have significantly reduced the reliance on bed and breakfast accommodation and were able to save over €1.07 million in funding because of that from 2019 to 2020.

That is a fantastic news story. If it can be achieved in an urban area such as Waterford - obviously it will take longer to address the challenges in Dublin - it certainly shows that progress can be made.

This is addressed to Ms Timmons in relation to the Department. I have requested that targets be placed on local authorities for the repair and lease scheme ad nauseam for 12 months and it still has not been done. Will that be done and if so, when?

Deputy Paul McAuliffe took the Chair.

Ms Caroline Timmons

In terms of repair and lease, that is a demand-led scheme at present. We have the overall delivery target of 120 units for 2022. The targets have not been set for individual local authorities. At present, what we have going on is a programme of work under vacancy generally. As the Senator will be aware, it is a fairly big pillar of Housing for All at this point.

We are starting on a programme of vacancy. We are going to be looking at many different strands of work. Repair and lease will have to come into that because that will be an important part of that.

We have not moved as far as deciding to set individual targets for local authorities but, working with the Housing Agency on both the compulsory purchase order, CPO, programme bringing forwards grants for refurbishment of vacant property and the repair and lease scheme for housing, those all will be considered in the round as part of that.

I will leave it with last point. It should not be the case that Waterford has 50% of all of the repair and lease units in the country. It is clearly working and it is having a positive impact.

Perhaps Senator Cummins can expand on it in the next slot. From the Independent Group, I call Senator Boyhan.

First, I welcome our guests who have come here today. This is not a blame game for anyone. That is what we need to get out of the way. It is a crisis in homelessness and we need to tackle it in a multifaceted and holistic way.

I picked up on some words there from Ms Timmons when she talked about the Housing for All implementation plan. That is really important. We need to police this and monitor it.

I have sat in this committee for the past five years on Rebuilding Ireland and heard so many promises. The focus now has to be on implementing this plan. I am fully supportive of it - better co-ordination, better communication and better synergies between agencies, NGOs and everyone who is involved in tackling this crisis. I do not want to go over all that history again and the multi-agency approach.

I will pick two issues that are critically important in terms of homelessness, that is, the national youth homeless strategy, which we need to focus on, as well as the need for us to stop people getting into homelessness. That is a real concern to me, particularly the focus on people who have been either in care, in the probation services in the prisons, on the margins of difficulties or on the margins of family breakdown who have had enormous difficulties. I am familiar with many of the agencies that work in the city here and the problem is buy-in. When you talk to a 15-year-old or 16-year-old who has had a breakdown in family relationships from early on, invariably, that young person has left his or her place of care or, in some cases, detention. How do you keep that relationship going? Then you mix that in with drug addiction.

Addiction is a big issue here. We need to be careful. I am very concerned by the stories I am hearing in relation to addiction, which, let us be honest, is a mental health issue but for which there are other reasons. We must accept that. I do not like the idea that any person would be excluded. I am hearing of young people who feel excluded from the health services and the health supports. We talk about wrap-around supports - lovely jargon - but they feel excluded in many ways and they are finding it difficult to access it. They feel they are excluded in terms of housing as well. I made a case to a housing authority. It does not make a difference in what housing authority it was - it was not one in Dublin. This was a woman in her 70s and they said that she had had addiction problems and a multiplicity of problems. Yes, but that is life and we must support them.

My concern here - I only want to focus on those two issues - is the area of addiction and vulnerable people, particularly young people, and how we will support them, and the issue of the national youth homelessness strategy because they are interlinked. I have no doubt walking the streets. I came through town fairly late on Friday night, on Talbot Street and thereabouts, and it is all over the place.

There is another aspect, of people who have come into this country from direct provision and other countries who are very vulnerable. They are vulnerable to abuse, addiction, sexual abuse and exploitation. These are our most vulnerable people on our streets and you only need to take a walk on any of our streets to see them. What I am asking Ms Timmons and Ms Hayes is that they focus on youth and addiction and how we can better improve facilities and outcomes for these highly vulnerable people, most of whom end up homeless.

Ms Caroline Timmons

Senator Boyhan is making really important points there. In fact, the youth homelessness strategy is one of the things we discussed yesterday at the national homeless action committee. We will be focusing in the first aeration of that committee on two important points, namely, what more we can do on prevention and the national youth homelessness strategy. You will see that we are aiming to have that done quickly and we are working with our various partnerships, such as the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Tusla and the local authorities.

Part of preparing that strategy will involve consultation. There will be a consultation process with the regional leads, the Departments of Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Tusla, the national advisory committee for the teen parents support programme and Hub na nÓg. Obviously, we want to hear from the youth themselves as to what they perceive to be the barriers in terms of coming into homeless accommodation and being prevented from going into homeless accommodation in the first place.

I agree it is very important for care leavers in particular - those who experience vulnerabilities in their youth - that we have a particular plan for them to progress onwards. Housing First is part of that. Our CAS programme is also to provide accommodation for care leavers and is a game-changer in that respect. AHBs working with care leavers or those who have had contact with the juvenile justice system can be particularly important. In respect of that, we should have a fully formed strategy by the end of May. That is what we are aiming for at the moment.

The point on addiction was apt. There is a commitment in Housing for All around integrated care pathways and making sure there is an individualised care plan for each person. The HSE and the Department of Health are very committed to the work on that. They have appointed a national clinical lead for dual diagnosis where there are both addiction and mental health difficulties. That is going to be very important as they develop their model of care in collaboration with others.

Ms Mary Hayes

In the Dublin context, the steering committee has been one of the best things for us in making meaningful contact with young people leaving care and in identifying the people who are at risk of homelessness. Sadly, we probably do not have housing for everybody. There are young people who have left care who are homeless but at least there is that mechanism and that co-working which was not there previously. On addiction, I pay tribute to my colleagues in the HSE who have supported us enormously, particularly with putting in addiction and support services into private emergency accommodation, which we did not have heretofore, as well as putting in training.

I thank the witnesses for coming in. I appreciate their work in the area. My question is for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE. On the inspections by Dublin Fire Brigade, of which it stated 20% resulted in works to bring the accommodation up to standard in terms of fire safety compliance, should inspections not have taken place before people moved in to ensure all accommodation Dublin City Council or DRHE is contracting is fire-safety compliant before anyone moves in? Were any hostels or accommodation shut down on foot of those inspections?

Ms Mary Hayes

When a service is inspected, whether by Dublin Fire Brigade or otherwise, it is like the private emergency accommodation sector in that it can be minimal or it can be severe. I do not have the breakdown of the works. In some properties, remedial works were required. In some cases, the properties Dublin Fire Brigade selected were ones it had not reviewed in quite some time. It was going in prior to the request but it is just that it put a special focus on it during that period of time. It would normally have been reviewing-----

Am I to understand all accommodation was inspected by Dublin Fire Brigade before it was brought into use?

Ms Mary Hayes

Yes, there would be fire regulation certificates and fire certificates as part of-----

Was any accommodation operating without fire certificates?

Ms Mary Hayes

I am sorry but I am only here since last March. I can say that from right now, I do not believe so.

Mr. John Durkan

Not all buildings would have fire certificates. It depends on the building's current use. The deputy chief executive gathered a comprehensive response to this question last March at the council meeting. Prior to the building regulations coming in in 1992, and if the use did not change or it remained in hospitality or as a hostel, the property may not have a fire certificate. That is a very important point because not everyone gets that. Subsequently, when you do works, make material changes, build an extension or have a change of use, if a building has no fire certificate, it will trigger the need for a new fire certificate or a regularisation certificate if that has not taken place since the regulations came in in 1992. The Deputy is asking a very technical question and the response is very nuanced. To be clear, that is not the case in every property or in all properties in all parts of Dublin or the country.

Does Mr. Durkan mean that if it was in operation as a hostel before 1992, it might not require a fire certificate to continue to operate?

Mr. John Durkan

There are certain buildings per se that have been in residential use and may have had no changes, extensions or material changes, that may not have a fire certificate. However, when a material change of use or an extension-----

Would there be a difference in residential use if the property was a home for a few individuals and then became a hostel for many more people? You would expect a fire certificate would be required at that point.

In regard to the inspections over the past two years, the report stated that apart from the Dublin Fire Brigade there have not been inspections. They were suspended due to Covid-19. Dublin Fire Brigade was inspecting fire safety issue, so the other issues were not being inspected in regard to quality.

Ms Mary Hayes

The in-house team was not allowed to move between facility and facility. What we did was we preserved physical inspections where we received a complaint. If we received a complaint about any building from a service user, that would trigger a physical inspection in regard to what that complaint was.

Recommendation 5 of our report from last year was that HIQA should be appointed to do these inspections. That was not referenced in any of the opening statements. Given that the tendering process on this has not worked to date and given that there have not been inspections for the past two years, would it not be a good idea to appoint HIQA, which has the experience and expertise in this area, to do these inspections?

Ms Mary Hayes

I would say genuinely that that is a policy issue, probably more pertinent to the Department.

Okay. I might ask the Department about it.

In regard to recommendation 12, in its opening statement the Simon Community reference a problem with the tendering process in terms of accommodation. When DRHE awards a contract, is a contract awarded to the lowest bidder or is quality also considered? How is the decision made?

Ms Mary Hayes

It depends on different things. If you were contracting purely for a building, you would set out your standards for the building so then you are looking at cost and location. They are the kind of factors we take into account in regard to pure emergency accommodation. Sometimes there is an issue in regard to services where we may build up award criteria, where we are forced to look for value for money. We would build up our award higher scoring points to the quality - for example, where you are trying to discern between the quality of one tender and another. Therefore, your award criteria has to be specified from the outset when you are tendering. People would know that when you are tendering.

Then, privately run emergency accommodation may only be judged in terms of the accommodation, the building, and not quality around service provision or-----

Ms Mary Hayes

That is if you are only tendering for the physical building. If you are tendering for care and case management within a building, which we will be doing soon, that would be for both.

On the national quality standards, work on this began in 2014. My understanding was that it was meant to be for all providers of homeless accommodation at the time. Where was the decision taken that it would not apply to privately-run emergency accommodation? Will the standards for privately-run emergency accommodation be published? Will Ms Hayes send a copy of them to members of the committee so we can see them? What are the key differences between that and-----

Ms Mary Hayes

To take the last question first, they are on our website and we are very happy to circulate a copy. I would ask members when reading them to bear in mind that it is a starting point. I was involved in drafting the standards in 2014 and I have a slightly different perspective on the decision. At the time we did not think we would be relying on private emergency accommodation so our perspective back then was a shared process with the NGOs. The NGOs had developed their own bespoke standards and we wanted to standardise the standards across emergency accommodation. Back then we were really talking about NGO providers and we had a residual use of private accommodation that we had hoped to move out of. We did not anticipate back then the requirements for private emergency accommodation.

I thank all our witnesses, and Ms Breathnach for sharing the experience of Waterford. It is great to hear that bed and breakfasts no longer need to be used. We know Waterford is leading the way in terms of delivering those one- and two-bed units, under its repair and lease scheme which has provided long-term solutions for people who were homeless. I very much welcome the Department’s commitment to ending homelessness by 2030. I support Senator John Cummins on his point that the Housing for All implementation plan needs to include targets on schemes such as repair and lease, and the tackling of vacancy and dereliction because this can play a role in long-term solutions for people who are homeless. My main comments are going to centre around Dublin and are for Ms Hayes more than anyone else. That is because I am a Dublin Deputy and the people who come to me looking for advice due to fear of homelessness or who have found themselves homeless, end up receiving support for her organisation.

I thank Ms Hayes and all her team for all they do to support people in homelessness and for progressing so many of the actions that we as a committee set out in our report on tackling homelessness. In particular, I welcome their updates on the inspection of facilities, the fact all families the DRHE deals with now have an assigned key worker and the fact single adults now have access to housing support workers. That is critical and it is an issue that has been raised with us time and again in committee. It arises also with the families we all deal with.

I welcome Ms Hayes’s assurance that no one is being denied access to emergency accommodation because of the local authority area or the county he or she comes from, an issue that was uncovered by "RTÉ Investigates". It is great that is no longer an issue on the ground. She stated 4,923 families had been prevented from entering homelessness through the creation of alternative tenancies in the Dublin region over the past three years. That is a real success. I for one am grateful these tenancies are there to support people who might otherwise find themselves homeless, a point that was raised earlier. They might not be in line with everyone's political ideology but they are a practical measure and intervention that prevents people from ending up homeless, which is the shared goal of all of us.

I would like to learn a little more about the reasons Ms Hayes identified, and the trends around them, for homelessness among people presenting in the Dublin region. She had previously identified relationship breakdowns and the ending of leases as the two main causes of homelessness, and earlier in this meeting she outlined the example of families arriving from abroad with nowhere to stay. Will she give a little more information on those trends? I do not know whether it is possible to quantify this in percentages, but to what extent are those three categories the driving forces for people ending up in homelessness? Is the ending of leases still as big an issue as it was before the pandemic?

Ms Mary Hayes

I will take separately the different trends among those presenting at homelessness services. Family homelessness and single homelessness tend to be different issues and we have seen two different trend lines. Single homelessness has climbed relentlessly in one direction, whereas family homelessness in December 2021 had fallen by about 40% since the peak in 2018. There was definitely a fall-off in the number of families presenting from private rented accommodation or due to a notice of termination situation during the moratoriums.

We did not see the same trend in single homelessness, which leads me to believe it is really an issue relating to access to affordable accommodation. Cases often involve presentations from the family home or institutions or they may be migrant workers. They may have some work but they may not be able to afford housing, or they may be in housing in a sharing arrangement or overcrowding, for example, and fall out of it. That is a trend in regard to single accommodation.

As for families, there used to be a fairly even split between the number of issues relating to family or relationship breakdown, a small but significant volume of domestic violence, and notices of termination. Increasingly in recent years, there have been more presentations of families accessing low-paid work or looking for work who exercise their rights as EU mobile citizens to work in Ireland, so we have seen an increase in that context in the Dublin region.

I thank our guests for their presentations. I think this is Ms Hayes's first full appearance before our committee. She will find we are very friendly. I wish her the very best in what is a very demanding job, as I am sure she knows much better than the rest of us.

I had the pleasure of visiting Waterford and seeing the centralised hub. It is a really good model, so I commend the good work of Ms Breathnach and her team.

My questions are for Ms Timmons. We know from her presentation and from the figures last month that, while there was a slight dip between December 2020 to December 2021, the general trend is upwards. Part of what seems to be driving that trend is a significant increase in the past six months in the number of landlords issuing vacant possession notices to quit and more family presentations. At the same time, there are fewer rental properties because of those sales. The main worry I have is that the Department issued a circular last week that prevents, among other things, local authorities from purchasing properties that have housing assistance payment, HAP, or rental accommodation scheme, RAS, tenants in them despite the fact they could then face a notice to quit and be at risk of homelessness. I fully understand why the Department does not want local authorities to be in open competition with private purchasers for vacant properties with for-sale signs, but it makes no sense at a time of rising family homelessness to remove the ability of a local authority to prevent a family from becoming homeless by purchasing that property if a HAP or RAS tenant is in situ and the other criteria are met. Is that something the Department will reconsider, particularly given the likelihood that the number of family homelessness presentations will increase?

Many of us were surprised when we saw the new Housing First targets. The target of 50 additional tenancies a year is far too low. I suspect that if the Department had a private conversation with NGOs or homelessness service providers in the regions, they would say that if the targets had been based on need, they would have been closer to 400 or 500. What metric was used to determine that figure of an additional 50 and how will the Department determine how they are allocated?

My next question follows on from one that Deputy Andrews asked. Local authorities are not refusing people on habitual residency condition, HRC, grounds at the moment, but in part that is because they have the cold weather initiative, which will end in April. All the local authorities, as I understand it, are waiting to know what the outcome of deliberations between the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will be for guidance on what happens. In cases where a local authority is availing of the cold weather initiative and there are people in a property, rightly but not habitually resident, perhaps if they are Irish people from the area of a different local authority or people from outside of the State, what will be the guidance from the Department to the local authorities? April is fast approaching and there are quite a number of those HRC cases.

My final question relates to inspections. Did the Department actively consider HIQA as the independent inspection body? I am sure Ms Hayes and her team would love not to have to worry about carrying out inspections. They developed a really good-quality standards framework. Would it not be better for an already-existing independent body to carry out inspections of both the public and private sectors? I appreciate HIQA at a board level discussed how there would need to be a change of legislation and some additional resourcing, but would it not make more sense? The service providers could then get on with providing services, with an independent inspection regime.

Ms Caroline Timmons

I might start with the final question. I understand a Bill on the HIQA issue has been introduced in the Dáil and I do not want to prejudice any position the Government may-----

It is my Bill and Ms Timmons can feel free to prejudice it all she wants. That is not a problem.

Ms Caroline Timmons

My position is that I am not going to comment.

Did the Government ever consider a proper inspection regime for public and private emergency accommodation?

Ms Caroline Timmons

I am not familiar with whether the Government ever considered it, so I cannot answer that question. It is critical for us that appropriate standards be applied in all the accommodation. Ms Hayes spoke about the national quality standards framework that is in place. We are very anxious that that be in place for all types of accommodation, including private emergency accommodation, which is being rolled out at the moment and which we support very much. We want to see that in place and we are supportive of the measures that are being-----

The Department has never explored HIQA as an option for the inspection regime.

Ms Caroline Timmons

I am not aware of that. As the Deputy will know, I have just come into the position recently and I cannot answer that question today. I will find out and let him know the information in due course, if that is helpful.

I would appreciate that.

Ms Caroline Timmons

On the circular on acquisitions, we have not issued any circular preventing such acquisitions. Rather, we indicated there will be a cap of 200 on the number of acquisitions that can be made-----

I apologise for interrupting but the circular is clear. It sets out the criteria against which a local authority can purchase. It means that if a local authority has a property with a HAP or a RAS tenant, where previously it would purchase the property to prevent the family from becoming homeless when a vacant possession notice to quit had issued, this circular prevents that from happening. While that had previously been prevented from happening by an earlier decision, the circular that issued last week will not allow a director of housing or of homelessness services to proceed with an acquisition of such a property. It relates to various types of vacant property, including disability adapted. Given this practice was a crucial way for local authorities to prevent some levels of family homelessness, surely it should have been included as permissible in the circular.

Ms Caroline Timmons

The circular provides that, if somebody falls into particular priority categories, one of which is homelessness, the local authority can apply to make an acquisition of the property.

Perhaps I need to check that we can clarify for him that that is considered. I might take that back and make sure. My understanding is certainly that we have not prevented that. If you fall into that priority category, we can consider it.

It would be really good if Ms Timmons could clarify it because from talking to housing managers, my understanding is they do not believe they can proceed with those and that the acquisitions must be in line with the Minister's call for housing, which is vacant ones and fours. If the Department is now saying an occupied property of any size with a HAP or RAS tenant who has a vacant possession notice to quit and who is at risk of homelessness could be purchased, that would be very valuable. If Ms Timmons could clarify that it would be great. Maybe she could come back on the HRC and the other questions in writing, if possible.

I will allow Ms Timmons to clarify the point as it is important and then we will move on.

Ms Caroline Timmons

I ask my colleague Ms Tobin to come in on that.

Ms Rosemarie Tobin

To clarify, a notice to quit alone would not put you into one of those priority categories but the priority categories that are in the acquisitions could apply to someone who has received a notice to quit.

That is a separate question though. I understand that but that is not the point. I do not want to take more time. The Vice Chairman has just called time.

Perhaps we allow the time and we can go on to discuss it with other speakers. Ms Tobin may wish to finish the answer.

Ms Rosemarie Tobin

We are saying to local authorities that we very much want to give the priority to new-build housing rather than acquisitions and that is where the funding is available. When somebody receives a notice to quit, there are other options to try to maintain the tenancy, which is our preference, before there is a need to consider the acquisition. We are asking local authorities to not automatically go to an acquisition because of a notice to quit but if that tenant falls into one of the priority categories then that can be considered as an acquisition by the Department.

I thank Ms Tobin and call Senator Fitzpatrick.

I am going to continue on this point. I have some other questions but this is a really important issue. I thank Mr. Durkan, Ms Hayes, Ms Timmons and Ms Tobin for coming in. This meeting is meant to be one of a series. Ending homelessness by 2030 is a key priority for the Government and for this committee. We made it one of our first priorities by producing the report and we are committed to reviewing progress. It is not about policing the work of our guests in whom we have absolute confidence; it is about ensuring things are progressing.

On the matter of acquisitions by local authorities to prevent homelessness, the language of a circular can be very far removed from the reality of the lived experience of the individuals. I can think of countless cases in the last number of years where Dublin City Council has been in a position to respond to a family about to become homeless. Such families have been on the housing list for seven, eight or nine years, have children but are not at the top of the housing list because the list is quite long. They have a notice to quit and will be going into emergency accommodation. The way that was prevented, when we had a decade of undersupply and under-construction of housing, was by the local authority buying the house where the landlord agrees to it. That is not the ideal solution. All our guests have said as much today. Housing for All is committed to the State leading on the building of housing and delivering 300,000 homes over the next number of years. That is what we need to get to. I am delighted to hear political unanimity here that in the short term, it must be a combination of measures with one being the acquisition of homes. I would like the Department officials to come back and clarify that in a circular to us afterwards. It is really important the local authorities understand it is a criterion that allows them purchase a home where a landlord wants to sell and when the family is otherwise going to go into homelessness. The whole committee and the local authorities would appreciate that clarification.

I have a specific question for Ms Hayes on the Dublin presentations and the homeless numbers in that. It is great the family numbers are down by 40% since 2018 but we still have a big way to go. My first question is on the causes of homelessness. I heard what she said about relationship breakdown and coming out of care. How many cases of homelessness, or what percentage, does she think are being caused by illegal evictions? Has she any idea?

Ms Mary Hayes

Our practice in Dublin is to refer all notices of termination to Threshold, so what we see or what we see coming into homelessness is on foot of a valid notice of termination. We use the Threshold service because its staff are the experts in that field. They take up any case where they feel a notice is not valid.

Okay. That is really reassuring to hear and we encourage everybody to engage with Threshold.

On achieving the target of ending homelessness by 2030, we know about the 90,000 social house builds that are committed to, funded and which the local authorities are obviously gearing up to achieve but in the short term, what are we going to do? Is there sufficient supply there in the short term? The reality is, as well all know, it takes two or three years, at best, to build new homes.

Ms Mary Hayes

I have a concern about the short term in the sense that it is very important. That is why I have an openness on this point. I am almost tenure-neutral when it comes to having alternatives to emergency accommodation, as I said earlier, because we must bridge that gap between now and supply coming online. I am confident supply will increase this year. I am aware secure tenure is the option preferred by everyone here for social housing and that is what we aim for but we still strongly encourage uptake of homeless HAP in the city because we do not want a build-up of people waiting for a social housing letting within emergency accommodation. We have often been asked why we are so encouraging of homeless HAP and encouraging people to take it up. The alternative is homelessness which, apart from the expense, has a human cost. We are far happier to build up supports around a family in a community-based service, whether it is HAP, leasing or social housing. I recognise social housing is most people's preferred choice. It is not everybody's. Not so much with homelessness but with the general housing list, we see huge interest in HAP uptake across the city, where there is not necessarily huge desire for social housing in the long term. In homelessness you see the opposite. Where people have been through and have concerns they definitely prefer social housing options. I hope it will come on board. I hope HAP will continue to deliver for us in the short term.

To indicate where we are, we have two party slots with no representatives here. We then have a Fianna Fáil and a Fine Gael slot. That will complete the cycle and I propose we then go to those still in the room. I have indications from Deputies Ó Broin, Cian O'Callaghan, Andrews and Senator Fitzpatrick. We will divide the remaining time between them after the cycle is complete. I wanted to let everybody know what I am doing and that I am not making it up. That being the case, the next speaker is myself.

Remaining with Ms Hayes, we talked about single person homelessness. I raise emergency accommodation. There is an issue with emergency accommodation for people who do not have a substance issue. People, especially if they are single, are very fearful about taking up any sort of emergency accommodation because it just is not a suitable environment for them. I ask Ms Hayes to talk about the steps the DRHE has taken to try to provide that accommodation. There is a sort of chilling factor there where people are in very unsatisfactory situations because they cannot avail of emergency accommodation, which seems to me like a complete oxymoron, if Ms Hayes does not mind my saying so.

Ms Mary Hayes

On single accommodation, the numbers are again quite sizable. I will start with some of the prevention work we have done in the executive. Not just in the DRHE but with the council we have decided older person homelessness is not something we want to see. We do not want to see older people coming into emergency accommodation and maybe having to share with a younger cohort where addiction is an issue. In those cases, we have built into our scheme of lettings a prevention approach where if we have older persons' accommodation or senior citizens' accommodation that we can go for an overall priority and immediately house those people. I accept that is not covering everybody and there is still a huge cohort of people whose needs we are not meeting.

On prevention, there are the prevention officers. The year before last, the Department gave us extra funding for housing support officers for single people. The officers' focus is on trying to acquire HAP and try to build up relationships, as well as to supplement the social housing offering we have.

Members will see fairly strong, consistent results in terms of our lettings to single adults experiencing homelessness. It is certainly a priority for us in Dublin because we are aware that we have never made a dent in that huge number or changed the curve in respect of single adults experiencing homelessness.

It is hard for me to say that we are able to separate all hostels. There are hostels and places available for people who do not have addiction issues. Sometimes people will say they do not have any addiction issues, go into accommodation and, subsequently, addiction issues become apparent and we have to move them out of the accommodation. I would say, however, that we have a good turnover in the accommodation we have, but perhaps we need more of it. As part of the homeless action plan in Dublin, we will look at whether we should segregate the accommodation we have a bit more and create some more drug-free spaces if we can. We have done that. The Peter McVerry Trust and Crosscare have developed some excellent services for us, just as the other services have developed really good low-threshold services, which are also important for people who are in the full throes of their addiction and need quite an amount of support.

I suppose the category that most comes to mind is people experiencing family breakdown. For example, a middle-aged man or woman with young children may just not feel safe going into emergency accommodation. He or she could be staying with a brother or his or her mother and therefore would find it very difficult to access the housing market. We know that homeless HAP is one of the key ways for people to access the higher rate of HAP. If people in such circumstances cannot access the homeless HAP, they cannot access HAP as a solution and therefore cannot provide a secure environment where they can enjoy full custody of the children in their care. I go back to the point that by not having access to emergency accommodation, people are locked out of a solution that they would be very much willing to adopt. They are not able to get on the first rung of the ladder because, as they tell me all the time, they feel they would not survive in emergency accommodation where there are high levels of substance misuse.

Ms Mary Hayes

I understand. We are constantly under pressure. The Deputy must remember that we are up against it as it is as regards rehousing homeless people. There is an incentive. We try to use the incentives we have for people who are actually homeless. If people have an alternative place to stay, it might not give them full independence but their need is perhaps not as critical as that of someone else who is sleeping in a doorway or sharing accommodation with other people. I understand that people want us to open to everybody all the incentives available under the homeless HAP scheme. Unfortunately, if we were to do that, we would lose their bonus or use for people who are actually experiencing homelessness now. I remind the Deputy that in the Dublin context, there are beds. The Iveagh Trust has contacted us at times to tell us there are beds. There are organisations that we work with and occasionally beds are available. I do not want to paint too rosy a picture of any of the issues I have discussed. The picture is far from rosy. We have huge work to do and we know it. I am providing members with an update on the recommendations. The challenges remain and they are certainly there for single people.

I accept Ms Hayes's answer. I suppose the question is not whether someone has alternative accommodation. On a short-term basis, many people can access some accommodation but it is not a sustainable or long-term option. It is called sofa-surfing for a reason. The real difficulty in cases of marital breakdown is that what often happens is the parent who does not have primary custody is never able to become established in an independent residence with HAP because he or she can never access homeless HAP as there is no safe place to go to access emergency accommodation. That is a real gap in the system. It is having a real impact on many parents and their children, particularly fathers and their children.

Ms Mary Hayes

Most cases are assessed on their individual merits. When a person comes in and has no presenting needs in terms of addiction, we tend to refer him or her first into services that are very high threshold insofar as-----

I must cut off my contribution at this point. The final speaker in the full round is Deputy Higgins.

On the circular that has been spoken about, I was in the Dáil last week when the Taoiseach answered a question on it. He was very clear that the circular issued to local authorities was a way of reiterating to county councils that acquisitions cannot be an alternative to building. What we do not want is local authorities buying up en masse three and four bedroom homes that would otherwise be available to first-time buyers. Local authorities should not be doing that. There is a balance that we need to strike. That balance is that local authorities should be able to purchase homes where there is a tenant in situ who will otherwise end up homeless, there is a need to improve the stock of a particular type of home, for example, one-bedroom apartments, or there is a specific need to deliver more homes that are accessible from a disability perspective. It is my understanding that this is what that circular sets out to achieve. I know we spoke a little about this but it would be useful if more clarity could be provided.

Ms Rosemarie Tobin

The Deputy is right. What the circular is outlining is where those priority acquisitions are. This is very much units that are difficult for the local authorities to source otherwise, such as one-bedroom units for single people, particularly for Housing First, units for larger families who it can be very difficult to exit from emergency accommodation and units that are specifically adapted for a person with a disability or another priority need that cannot be dealt with from the normal social housing stock. We are trying to focus and target where that money is really needed for acquisitions, and otherwise move local authorities away to build from acquisitions.

I thank Ms Tobin for her response. Just to be clear, does the circular prevent a local authority from intervening, for example, in the case of a person who is in a HAP tenancy and whose accommodation is being sold? Does it prevent the local authority from purchasing that property to add it to its stock?

Ms Caroline Timmons

There is no particular national policy on that. My understanding is that Dublin City Council has a policy on purchase in those circumstances. The circular does not directly address whether Dublin City Council should or should not do that. What we have said is that in the case of a particular priority circumstance, if the local authority wishes to use some of its allocations for those particular purposes, it is entitled to seek to do so. We have not specifically determined, in or out, whether that can be done in the particular circumstance the Deputy raised. However, there is an ability to look at that. Obviously, the whole point of it is to keep the acquisitions for those particular priority categories. It is designed to militate against local authorities competing with first-time buyers in the market or approved housing bodies, which is something people have been strongly advocating. It is trying to do the right thing in that respect, focusing on the build. In those particular circumstances, in which we very much recognise that there might be vulnerable households, we are also trying to protect them insofar as we can with the limited number of acquisitions we can do. The intention is certainly to so something good for those categories and not to injure, as it were, any ability to help them out. I think that is the full expression of the circular. If there is a need to provide a clarification, we are happy to do so. We will come back to the committee on that particular point.

Super. In summary, the circular is not issuing a ban on second-hand purchases. Is that correct?

Ms Rosemarie Tobin

No, it is not.

I appreciate that.

The four remaining speakers, Senator Fitzpatrick, Deputy Ó Broin, Deputy Cian O'Callaghan and Deputy Andrews, will have four minutes each.

Ms Hayes said funding is not an issue. What is the biggest issue?

Ms Mary Hayes


On that basis, a circular clarifying the situation would be very important. A pot of money has been allocated to acquire properties where it makes sense to do so. We could be waiting for one and four bedroom properties to come up and, at the same time, we could be allowing families to go into emergency accommodation when they are in properties that meet their needs and will prevent them from going into homelessness. We must be very clear that there is no confusion at local authority level on that issue. It is just too important. It makes no sense to be adding housing stock, on the one hand, while allowing people to drift into homelessness, on the other. There is a huge cost. I am not talking about the financial cost but the emotional, social and psychological costs to individuals and families, including their extended families and communities, of becoming homeless. That must be clarified. There should not be any hesitation at local authority level.

Will Ms Timmons tell us what has been done to prevent young people leaving care and entering homelessness? Young people are in care for a reason, namely, because they need care. Just because they turn 19 it should not become a case of one day to the next. Humanity is not like that. What is being done to prevent that cliff-edge transition from care to homelessness?

Ms Caroline Timmons

Earlier, we spoke about the new youth homelessness strategy, which, obviously, will be a big part of addressing that particular issue. This does not mean it is not already being addressed at some level on the ground. Members will be aware that as a person exits care at the age of 18, he or she is supposed to have follow-on care plan up to the age of 23 if he or she is still in education. The person's social worker and guardian ad litem are supposed to make that follow-on the care plan. The aspect of housing should be part of that. If the person coming out of care needs accommodation, then prior to leaving care he or she should already been linked in with the local authority and an application should have been made on their behalf. At the local authority level, we have tools to link them in with the supports they require. There is quite a bit of good work there, but this does not mean that we have it all figured out. We absolutely acknowledge that the development of the youth homelessness strategy will be very important to make sure there are no gaps in what we are doing, to make sure that everybody is on the same page, and that a collaborative focus is brought to what needs to be done. Good work is going on but we certainly will be drawing it altogether so it is more obvious by way of the strategy, and we will be seeing if anything else needs to be brought into that. Perhaps Ms Hayes would like to add to that.

Ms Mary Hayes

The matter came up at the national homeless action committee meeting yesterday and some very good points were made, particularly around how the care leaver CAS can be built on and brought along. Those steering committees function very well, certainly in Dublin. They bring together all of the key players and there is, at least, that planning elements going in. Some of the suggestions that came up yesterday were excellent including some input from the voluntary agencies around how that could be built upon in the new youth homelessness strategy.

I thank all of our witnesses for the answers so far. In the short time allowed, perhaps Ms Timmons could come back to me on the HRC, the cold weather initiative and the metrics for the Housing First target. That would be useful.

I want to belabour the issue about the circular, because I believe it is important. I want to make two points. I have the circular here in front of me and there are three priority categories. The first is for one-bedroom units delivered on Housing First to meet the short supply in this category. The implication is that it would be a vacant property for a Housing First allocation. The second category is other properties that would allow families to exit homelessness, and the implication here is that it is a vacant property. The third category is specific housing required that is suitable for individuals with a disability and other particular priority needs. All of this is consistent with the Minister's call for housing from August two years ago, which was looking for a vacant properties. We have a particularly acute problem, which is written in the past couple of months. If one looks at the DRHE report, the longer December report shows a very significant fall back in exits for families last year than in the two previous years. Some of this is because there were fewer families in emergency accommodation, which is good, and some of it is a supply issue. There absolutely must be a fourth bullet point in that circular which is, where in the opinion of a local authority a HAP or a RAS tenant is at risk of homelessness because of a vacant possession notice to quit, then the local authority should be empowered to pursue an acquisition.

Here is the problem: if a person receives a three-month notice to quit, are we suggesting that we should send the family off for two months to look for an alternative housing assistance payments tenancy, and when they do not find it maybe then the council would start talking to the Department and the dead hand of the four-stage approval process for acquisitions, in terms of trying to get an acquisition through? We want to avoid the spiralling of family homelessness beyond the numbers we had in 2018. This one small measure would be very key. I fully agree with Deputy Higgins that it is not about allowing local authorities to purchase properties that are on the open market and vacant for buyers. They should not be touched. This would be a very specific cohort. I would urge the Minister to look at that. Last year in the South Dublin County Council area, we had a bizarre situation with 80 properties, nearly all of which were second-hand homes in private residential suburbs. The bulk of those occupying them had been HAP tenants and they were issued with notices to quit. HAP tenants were put out and the houses were put on the market. Who is now buying them? It is small-scale institutional investors who are now leasing them long-term back to the local authority. This is bad for first-time buyers and bad for the original HAP tenants who were evicted. This urgently needs to be looked at and particularly in light of the rising homelessness figures. I just wanted to make that point.

Ms Caroline Timmons

I thank the Deputy, I will take one point and I will leave the remainder to the others if that is okay.

I appreciate that.

Ms Caroline Timmons

On the Housing First targets, as set out in Housing First there is a breakdown of the targets of the local individual authorities, based on the analysis of need, and which involves all of the key stakeholders, and is supported by the Housing Agency. An analysis of need was done as part of the setting of the targets. These are set out on page 6 and the total number of Housing First candidates, by region and by local authority, is given.

Is that analysis of need available publicly or could it be circulated to the committee members? It is not clear from the strategy document.

Ms Caroline Timmons

I do not know. I would have to come back to the Deputy on that. I do not know if it is publicly available but I could certainly find out.

It would be great If the committee could have it.

Ms Caroline Timmons

Okay, no problem at all.

The Deputy's second question was what will happen to people who may not have fulfilled habitual residence requirements when we are coming out of the cold weather. As a priority for our Department, everybody must have a humanitarian attitude to people who need accommodation. It is imperative that someone who requires shelter and needs a roof over their head is dealt with as a person first, rather than looking at the particular situation. If the person does not fulfil the requirements we have in relation to social housing eligibility, the question is what happens to them then. We are talking to Department of Justice about this. We do need to figure this out and I do not believe that we have settled on quite exactly how that policy should be dealt with. We would like to bring some clarity into that area in the near future. It could help everybody to understand what way we are going to deal with that going forward.

On what date will the cold weather initiative end in April?

Ms Caroline Timmons

I do not have the exact date.

Is it a movable feast?

Ms Mary Hayes

It is the end of April.

There have been several question and answers back and forward on the tenancy issue. Perhaps Ms Timmons will write to the committee. I know it was said that you wanted to examine the circular, and perhaps the officials might write to the committee of the definitive position. That would help all of us if Ms Timmons could do that please. There were a few questions back and forward on the matter and different answers have had different emphasis. A written position would be beneficial to all for all committee members if possible.

Ms Caroline Timmons

That is no problem we will do that.

I have a very quick question for the DRHE and then a longer question for the Department. I have not been able to find the standards for the private emergency accommodation on the website. The witness said they were published but I cannot find them. I can find the reference from 2009 in the national quality standards saying that these would be for all providers. That is very clearly on the website but I cannot find the new standards that were referred to. It is important when one looks at the previous inspections and compare the questions for the NGOs and the not-for-profits for the inspections; it is some 15 pages in the document and it is quite thorough. The private emergency accommodation providers was a questionnaire of one page and a few lines, which was incredibly minimal checking with only the absolute basics. Are there different questionnaires for the inspections? Has that been done yet and can we see that questionnaire? One can get quite a lot of information from the inspection questionnaire. Has that work been done yet?

Ms Mary Hayes

I am almost certain that it is. Our website is being revamped. It was put up there but it might be difficult to find. I assure the Deputy that it is available and we are happy to send it to you. That is not an issue.

The Deputy is right that there was a huge disparity between the inspections previously. It must be borne in mind however that the physical inspections are done by the inspectorate who would provide reports to us on all services, whether they are NGO or private emergency accommodation providers. Those inspectorate reports will be based on environmental health standards, fire standards, and hazard analysis and critical control point, HACCP standards. That is what the independent inspectorate will do. With the private emergency accommodation PEA we are building up to replicate what the quality standards team due currently in the NGOs. They will be doing the exact same type of questionnaire with the care and case management teams that are going in on an in-reach basis into the PEAs. As the standards develop, around things such as whether people feel respected, and consultations with staff and clients within PEA services, that will become normalised as part of the roll-out of the quality standards. Our quality standards team would be asking those questions of residents within private emergency accommodation. At the moment, for part of that we are relying complaints, but we want to get more proactive and be testing that in the same way we would with an NGO.

So the questionnaire for the inspections would be the same then?

Ms Mary Hayes

The inspections tender is purely based on physical standards.

That includes regulation-style standards for fire protection, environmental health and HACCP standards for food preparation and safety. That is what they do. The quality standards piece is run by the quality standards team internally. It starts from a different base with NGOs and PEAs but we are aiming to get to the same point for those two teams.

I have huge concerns around the quality standards. There have been some terrible complaints from very vulnerable people in some privately-run emergency accommodation. It is not that we do not have a fit-for-purpose inspection regime; it is that there is no inspection regime in place at the moment. It is critical that HIQA is appointed to do that. The Department did not give any view on recommendation 5 in its opening statement. I ask for a written response from the Department as regards whether HIQA should be appointed to such a role. Ms Timmons said she would get back to Deputy Ó Broin about whether that is being considered but I would like a detailed response on the Department's view. Does the Department think it is a good idea? If not, why not? It would be helpful to understand that. I certainly think that is what needs to be done and that many of these issues around quality and standards would be sorted out if HIQA were appointed to do the inspections.

Ms Hayes mentioned senior citizens becoming homeless. I acknowledge the work done by the team in Dublin City Council, including Cathal Daly and Paul White. That team is strong, decent and humane in its actions with people who find themselves in that position at that age. It is important to acknowledge the work it does.

What is being done to ensure that local authorities are sharing information? When an individual appears in Dublin, Galway or wherever from another county or country, what work is being done to ensure that local authorities engage with each other on the matter? I understand that process can take a while. What is being done to make sure local authorities have a better line of communication?

Ms Mary Hayes

I thank the Deputy for his comments on the team. I will pass them on. Ms Breathnach and I can both talk about this issue. As I have said, our assessment is not immediate and is open-ended. Our concern in Dublin is that we do not want to become the only place developing homeless services. We need to ensure that services are still developed close to where people are from and where they are becoming homeless from. That is different from when someone is in Dublin for a long time, although we do not quantify it in terms of years. If someone is in Dublin and for whatever reason they are not going back home, we do an assessment, which might involve checking with the local authority of origin. That is about making sure someone is making a full and informed decision. If someone is giving up after a few years on a housing list somewhere else, we want that person to realise exactly how long they will be waiting for an offer of social housing from Dublin City Council if they start at the bottom of the list with us. Those are some of the things we do. It is important for us to do that because we do not want people to just drift into homelessness. We are also very conscious of the drug issue. There is a drug culture in Dublin city and there is risk there. We have to bear all those factors in mind and decide if someone is at greater risk coming in. Of course we try to prevent that and say to people to keep their natural supports if they have them, but notwithstanding that, people will come to Dublin and will need accommodation in Dublin from other local authorities. It takes a little back and forth but most of that is assuring ourselves that the person is in full possession of the facts before they come to Dublin and before we accept them onto our housing list.

Do the relationships and communication between the local authorities need to be improved?

Ms Mary Hayes

We are in regular contact with the regional leads. We have been meeting every fortnight so there is very good contact through the regional leads.

Ms Sinéad Breathnach

I reiterate that point. As regional leads, we ensure there is open communication between us and that we contact each other if we have somebody out of region within our homeless services. We also utilise the inter-county HAP. If somebody from Waterford was to go to Dublin, we would support them in Waterford to get a HAP property in Dublin and the supports would come from the originating local authority. That is operating well throughout all the regions.

The number of service users accessing emergency accommodation for over two years is quite high. Mendicity did a survey which showed that 70% of service users in this city have been in emergency accommodation for over two years. What initiatives are there to tackle-----

The Deputy has 15 seconds left.

What initiatives are there to address that?

Ms Mary Hayes

Someone asked me earlier about Housing First targets. We exceeded them. We split housing first between two groups. We take people who are long-term homeless, particularly if they are long-term homeless purely because they have complex needs and are not able to access accommodation on that basis. Apart from the rough sleeper population we are also targeting long-term homeless people within single emergency accommodation to move out into Housing First.

Very briefly, I know Brendan Kenny has retired. I acknowledge his work and the contribution he made with everything he has done within housing.

I was about to cut the Deputy off but I could not do it on that point. Given the length of service Brendan Kenny has given, many people would agree with the Deputy and echo his sentiment on that.

We previously made a recommendation on the homeless HAP uplift. In my experience in Waterford, there is a difficulty because the HAP limits are artificially low and we can only have a 20% uplift whereas in Dublin it can go to 50%. That is causing quite a problem. When the Minister visited the integrated hub in Waterford he said he was considering the matter, and he is on record in the House saying the same. What is Ms Breathnach's view on that issue? I would also ask Ms Timmons what action is being taken to address it.

Ms Sinéad Breathnach

It is a huge issue for us. Outside the Dublin region, our HAP discretionary increase is 20% and not 50%. At the moment the affordability gap between the actual rents and the HAP rates, especially for single people, is too wide. Even with that increase and reducing the differential rent we cannot close that gap. It is blocking a lot of our hostels and STAs at the moment. There have been few or no move-ons for single people in the past 12 to 18 months because of this factor. We have requested that the 50% discretionary rate be rolled out nationally and I understand a review of that has been carried out so we hope to hear from that shortly.

Does Ms Timmons have an update on that?

Ms Caroline Timmons

As Ms Breathnach said, a review and analysis was conducted by the Housing Agency and we have received that report. It is currently being considered and is with the Minister for some decisions on it. I do not have an update further than that but when that is available we will let the committee know.

I emphasise its urgency. I know Ms Timmons is aware of that but it would be greatly appreciated if we could get movement on this.

Deputy O'Callaghan tells me he has a ten-second question.

Could Ms Timmons confirm that the Department is happy to give us a written response on HIQA and recommendation 5?

Ms Caroline Timmons

I think I agreed I would come back on whether the Government had ever considered it. I am not sure I can give the committee my opinion or the Department's opinion on the matter because there is a Bill before the House at the moment in respect of this and I do not want to prejudice whatever position the Government may take. I hope the Deputy believes that reasonable. I am not trying to avoid the question.

Yes. The response will go to the committee anyway.

I thank the DRHE, the Department and the representatives from Waterford City & County Council for being with us today. There were some rapid-fire questions but we got through a lot this afternoon so I appreciate that. We will now take a short break to deal with some arrangements and we will then go into our second meeting.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.59 p.m. and resumed in public session at 5.05 p.m.

We are joined, from the Simon Communities of Ireland, by Mr. Wayne Stanley, head of policy and communications and, from Focus Ireland, by Mr. Pat Dennigan, CEO, and Mr. Mike Allen, director of advocacy and research. We are also joined remotely by Mr. Dermot Kavanagh, CEO, Cork Simon Community. We are joined by Ms Louisa Santoro, CEO of The Mendicity Institution, who is here in the room, and Dr. Una Burns, head of policy and communications at Novas. They are all welcome. We will start with opening statements.

Mr. Wayne Stanley

I thank the committee for the invitation. As members of the committee are aware, the second half of 2021 saw an alarming trend of increasing homelessness. The housing situation of too many people is insecure, due to rising rents in an already unaffordable private rental market and the impact of the growing cost of living, so the committee's reflection on where we are with homelessness framed through the April 2021 report, is both timely and welcome. In reviewing the progress made on the 17 recommendations made in the committee's report, we are conscious that Housing for All has since been launched. The commitments in Housing for All mirror many of the recommendations outlined in the committee’s report. We have acknowledged that in our submission to the committee, which members hopefully received. In the submission, we have responded to each of the 17 recommendations. I do not intend to go through all 17 of them.

I particularly welcome the commitment in the Housing for All plan to work towards ending homelessness by 2030. The ambition of the plan for the 2030 target builds on the successful collaborations that happened as we worked to ensure those experiencing homelessness were protected during the pandemic. The ongoing commitment to Housing First and to the strengthening of integrated care pathways, and case management for people experiencing homelessness is equally welcome. The development, enhancement and successful implementation of these recommendations over the coming months will be critically important.

Areas that we want to raise which are pertinent to the recommendation of the committee, which need a particular focus, include homelessness prevention. We need a greater focus on homelessness prevention. Emergency accommodation is a vital service required to meet people’s immediate and urgent need for accommodation, but it is possible to stop homelessness from happening before it starts. The moratorium on evictions is a prime example of a homelessness prevention measure that successfully reduced family homelessness in Ireland, or at least significantly contributed to it. Increased funding and planning are required to implement nationwide homelessness prevention measures post Covid. State interventions and prevention strategies need to be prioritised if we are to eradicate homelessness in Ireland. Committee members will be aware that, as part of our work in this area, we developed the Simon homeless prevention Bill, which has received significant cross-party support. We hope the committee will be involved in seeing that implemented in the coming months.

As set out in our submission, the Simon Communities of Ireland welcome the continued commitment to Housing First in Housing for All. However, we believe that that there is both the need and scope for greater ambition in the west and south west in particular. They are areas where Housing First has been successful, but we feel that there could be more ambition, particularly in those areas. In the longer term, we would like to see Housing First be the foundation of a strategy for how we respond to homelessness and housing-led solutions.

The committee will be well aware that HAP rates and discretion of local authorities is an issue that the Simon Communities of Ireland has been focused on for some time. Our Locked Out of the Market report found very low levels of rental accommodation available, even when discretion is used to its maximum. There needs to be greater discretion for local authorities to support people to get out of homelessness and to prevent people from getting into homelessness. It has worked well in the Dublin region in particular. I think Ms Mary Hayes just highlighted that. One thing that we and others around the table are seeing is that the level of topping up is endemic. Combined with the inflation for staples such as bread and milk, people are being forced into homelessness. That is a whistle-stop tour of our report. If members are interested in any individual recommendations, I am happy to answer questions.

I thank Mr. Stanley for his brevity. I know the information is all in his written submission.

Mr. Pat Dennigan

Focus Ireland welcomes the opportunity to attend this meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and to contribute to assessing progress on the committee's April 2021 report. To avoid taking up the time of the committee with a long description of the work that Focus Ireland does or the unique approach we take, we have included links to our most recent annual report and to our strategic plan in our submission.

Since the publication of the committee's report last year, the Government has published its Housing For All strategy. From our perspective, the most significant words in the strategy are its endorsement of the Lisbon declaration in the context of working with other EU countries to end homelessness by 2030. We are aware the strategy does not set out exactly how this objective is to be met but we do not consider this to be a criticism. Focus Ireland campaigned for such a commitment. We not only welcome it but we are also fully committed to working to achieve it and to working with Government and Opposition to identify what this will require.

We have argued that the next step should be to set out a series of milestones along the path to 2030 with detailed plans about how the first of these are to be achieved. Before Christmas we sent the committee a booklet of drawings made by children who, with their families, are homeless and whom we support. These drawings contained a clear message imploring the committee to ensure that ending child homelessness becomes one of our first milestones. We strongly recommend that the next report on homelessness from this committee should seek to identify the milestones to 2030 and how they are to be reached.

It might be helpful to see the pathway to 2030 in terms of three three-year stages. In doing so, we realise that very few people who are homeless now will be homeless in three years, and very few people homeless tonight will be homeless in three years. This points us towards measures which will prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. Hearings for the committee’s previous report coincided with a time when the Covid-related moratorium on evictions was coming to an end. Professor Eoin O’Sullivan noted the significant impact that the termination of tenancies in the private rental sector had on homelessness, notably leading to the lowest ever numbers of new entries into emergency accommodation by April 2020. The report also noted, based on Focus Ireland research, that the termination of tenancies in the private rental sector was the biggest driver of numbers into emergency accommodation. Regrettably, the Government did not adopt the committee's recommendation 1 to extend the eviction embargo, resulting in a new wave of family homelessness.

In our view, there is little point in continuing to call for something the Government has so resolutely set itself against but the problem continues, forcing families into homelessness daily, so we must find other ways to deal with it. We agree with the Government that a balance needs to be struck between the rights of tenants and those of landlords. We believe that the Government has consistently got this balance wrong, introducing measures the do little to increase the security of tenants and that create anxiety and frustration among small landlords. We believe that a major effort is now required to ensure, at the very least, that landlords who plan to leave the market delay their decision by a number of years. We are happy to discuss these proposals further.

The committee's report identified the gap between the maximum HAP and the level of market rents as a major problem in recommendation 4. This gap has widened in the intervening months. HAP levels were last adjusted in 2016. Since then, the Residential Tenancies Board's rent index has risen by 30% from €1,060 to €1,397. HAP tenants attempt to close this gap from their already inadequate income from employment or social welfare. We want to draw the attention of the committee to the fact that tenants offered the social housing solution of HAP are treated entirely differently and much more harshly than tenants in actual social housing. This is resulting in entirely avoidable evictions and indebted returns to homelessness. It also further disaffects landlords. We have made proposals to tackle this, which we will be happy to discuss further.

The committee's report correctly identified the importance of Housing First in tackling homeless in its recommendation 3. At the end of last year, the Government published the second housing first implementation plan. We welcome this plan and the establishment of the new housing first office in the Housing Agency but believe the current approach to housing first is too narrow. We believe the achievements of Finland arise from ensuring that housing first principles inform the entire housing and homelessness system. We would be happy to discuss this area, and the need for one-bedroom units as outlined in recommendation 4.

We commend the committee's recommendation 8 on trauma-informed practice. Recent research commissioned by Focus Ireland and the Housing Agency, on domestic violence and homelessness called for staff in all relevant service sectors, including homelessness, domestic violence, and housing, regardless of their position or prior training, to be trained in basic trauma knowledge to ensure their interactions with survivors are trauma informed. This report is very relevant to the forthcoming strategy on gender-based violence. Focus Ireland advocates strongly for a trauma-informed approach to service provision. Trauma-informed care is part of our organisational strategy. We have an extensive training programme in trauma-informed practice for all our staff and we recently appointed a head of practice development to ensure this approach, along with a psychologically informed environment and the housing first principals, inform all our work.

Ms Louisa Santoro

Mendicity is Dublin's oldest working charity and has offered services to our most marginalised neighbours since 1818. We offered continuous, sit-in services throughout Covid, seven days a week and late into the winter evenings. Our priority group are those sleeping outside and those accessing hostel accommodation where there are no supports. In 1852, the Mendicity Institution opened the first public baths in Dublin and from April 2020 and throughout the pandemic the Mendicity Institution offered the only shower in the city to those sleeping outside when we were all told to stay at home and wash our hands. These are impossible to do together for too many. During this short period in history, we said a final goodbye to nine people who used our service, arranging more than our fair share of funerals. We are sure there were others for whom we did not have the opportunity to mark their passing as there is no system in place to share such information. If death is a part of life then people who are homeless are consistently being denied the opportunity to grieve with dignity.

This submission intends to address some of the 17 recommendations of the April 2021 interim report on homelessness. It addresses those that speak to our expertise, focusing on those accessing private emergency accommodation and their experience of it. As referred to in recommendation 4, we rarely have an opportunity to work towards a housing assistance payment and a tenancy on the open market because when we asked we were told that of 105 homeless people at Mendicity, all accessing private emergency accommodation and none of whom are on a housing list with a local authority, 92% were ineligible. There is no housing for them, which is a stumble at the first step. Without access to a social housing waiting list we cannot look to the housing assistance payment as an exit.

The 200 or so individuals who access Mendicity every week depend largely on private emergency accommodation where the national quality standards do not apply. This is mentioned in recommendation 11. Although many regulatory standards exist none are applied, including those of HIQA, as referred to in recommendation 5, the Charities Regulatory Authority, the Health and Safety Authority, the Food Safety Authority, the Private Security Authority, the National Vetting Bureau or CORU. With regard to recommendation 15, security at emergency accommodation is not delivered by firms licensed by the Private Security Authority.

There is an absence of information in the public domain about the ownership and management of accommodation paid for by the DRHE and delivered by private individuals. This creates a gap for people who stay there and those who support them, especially when things go wrong or there is a complaint. We hear complaints daily against hostel staff or other residents involving behaviour that is criminal in nature and there is no independent arbitration process. This lack of a regulatory framework is at odds with best practice, good governance and common sense.

Between April 2021 and December 2021 there was no reduction in the use of private emergency accommodation, referred to in recommendation 13. This represents 56% of the accommodation provided in the Dublin region. Where a clear majority of accommodation is delivered for profit, with no regulatory oversight and where there are no on-site supports for people at their most vulnerable, they are there for longer and at a higher cost, not only to them. Those who use our services are at its heart and we rarely make changes without their consultation. We want and need to ensure the best use of our resources.

In looking at the 2021 recommendations, we opened the conversation to people in Mendicity and our findings are stark. We carried out a snapshot survey on 30 and 31 January and interviewed 96 individuals, comprising 93 men and three women, all single-person households. Based on these findings we intend to revisit this topic in more detail, and we will share this with the committee in due course. A total of 67% of the 96 people are between the ages of 36 and 45, 5% are under 25 and 3% are over 55. A total of 35 of them are Irish and 61 are from other EEA countries. A total of 78 of them have been homeless for two years or more. Only three of the 96 people have the support of a regular key worker. Only three of them are staying in supported temporary accommodation, 21 are sleeping outside but had previously stayed in private emergency accommodation and 72 currently in private emergency accommodation with no on-site supports.

The DRHE annual report of 2020 tells us that all residents in private emergency accommodation have received a copy of revised Guidelines for Service Users in Emergency Accommodation. None of the 96 had a copy of these guidelines and 88 of the 96 we asked said that no house rules had been explained to them. This is critical as we see regular exclusions of people for breaches of house rules.

We asked if they felt safe in their hostel and asked if they had been the victims of crime. We asked if they had been robbed or assaulted while in their hostel. When it came to a safety rating, 85 rated their safety at three or less out of ten. When it came to crime, 90 of the 96 had personally been the victim of crime, being either robbed or assaulted while in their hostel.

From our experience, there are limited exits from homelessness unless a local authority accepts an application for social housing. It is necessary to establish a local connection where one is applying. Without an application, a homeless person cannot access a range of housing supports such as supported accommodation or a housing assistance payment. This is illustrated well by Aidan who spent periods of time in foster care and residential care as a minor and was at times hospitalised. He has lived, at some point or another, in almost every county in Ireland. He is currently in Dublin. He is working and is staying in a tent. He has spent time in private emergency accommodation, sharing a room with three others, but drug use and violence make him feel safer outside. Rory, another resident in private emergency hostels, speaks candidly about drug use. He admits that he had drugs and drug paraphernalia in his room and when they were found he was restrained by staff, while being choked by one of their colleagues.

I will close with a few recommendations, not more than 17. To move forward, it is critical to review the social housing application process and remove existing barriers for people who are homeless. We must allow for intercounty transfer and improved information sharing between local authorities. We also must end our dependence on private emergency accommodation, where there is no support.

Dr. Una Burns

I thank the committee for the invitation to join this meeting. We appreciate the opportunity to share the experiences of Novas clients. Since I last had the opportunity to present to this committee last year, the number of homeless people throughout the country has increased. The cessation of rent freezes and of the moratorium on evictions last May has contributed to a 9% increase in homeless figures. While the pandemic saw reductions in the number of families experiencing homelessness, it did not have the same positive impact on single people, who continue to spend protracted periods of time living in homeless accommodation.

Twelve months ago, I reported 13 deaths in our services during 2020 to this committee. In 2021, this figure was seven. This is most welcome news. However, the level of self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among our clients is staggering, particularly among the women in our dedicated female services. Taking as an example the Abigail Women’s Centre in Dublin, from April 2021 to the end of January 2022, on 26 occasions our staff cut women down who had a cord or wire around their necks. This was in a period of just ten months and in just one of our services. Staff in our supported temporary accommodation, STA, service carry ligature knives in the small first-aid pouch around their necks at all times. While all staff in our STA services receive ligature training, the trauma of these experiences is unparalleled. It is fair to assume that the death rate among the homeless women we support would have been far higher in 2021 but for the interventions of our front-line staff.

Living in low-threshold, congregated accommodation is very difficult for people with complex needs relating to addiction and mental health who have experienced significant trauma in their lives. This is compounded by a number of issues. One of the them is the standard of accommodation in supported temporary services. We believe that everyone who lives in STA accommodation should have a single room as a minimum standard. We all agree that trauma informed practice is significant in supporting our clients and in delivering front-line services. It is something that Novas has pursued since 2016. However, if we expect people to live in dormitory style accommodation there is nothing trauma informed about this type of accommodation. It is very difficult for people with complex needs relating to addiction and mental health to share with strangers. When we lost the Abigail Women's Centre on a site in Finglas late last year we lost 40 single bedrooms. Now we have replaced them with 15 single bedrooms and the rest is shared accommodation. This makes it very difficult to support the most vulnerable people with the most complex needs who find it the most difficult to share rooms with others.

Another significant issue is the lack of dual diagnosis support for clients with addiction and mental health needs. They find it extremely difficult to access mainstream supports, as one issue blocks their ability to access treatment and support for the other. All the while their health and well-being deteriorate and their addiction becomes more entrenched, limiting their exit pathways from homelessness. Access to dual diagnosis support for homeless people has been long raised as an issue and considering the level of self-harm, suicide attempts and overdose among our clients, it is more pertinent now than ever.

Lack of appropriate move-on accommodation is stifling single people's ability to move from supported temporary accommodation. In terms of women, more gender specific move-on options, such as supported long-term accommodation, are essential. While we broadly welcome the new targets for Housing First, the figures are modest. For example, in the mid-west region, which has the largest homeless population per capita outside Dublin, just 52 clients will access a Housing First tenancy up to 2026. This precludes hundreds of homeless people from availing of the programme and also reduces the ability to deliver the programme on scale, to ensure it is economically viable to provide all the wrap-around supports to Housing First clients as per the model, including access to alternative accommodation should the first tenancy break down. As a final point relating to long-term housing options, HAP limits are too low and many of our clients are not even put forward for available accommodation by the Place Finder service, as the top-up to the landlords is so high it is unsustainable from the outset.

My final point relating to the difficulties and challenges facing our clients is reunification with their children. Many of the clients we work with are seeking to reunify with their children upon exiting homelessness, but this is an extraordinary challenge for them. For example, if a client does not have the primary care of his or her children, he or she is not entitled to more than a one-bedroom unit of accommodation on the social housing waiting list and, therefore, social workers cannot recommend reunification of a parent with his or her child. More discretion is required in the type of properties single people with children are entitled to. Reunification can be the overriding motive for the women who live in our services to recover from addiction and homelessness. Currently, it is incredibly rare for homeless women whose children are in care to regain access, despite their immense efforts.

I am conscious that much of what I presented here today is a repetition of my presentation to the committee a year ago. However, it is worth repeating. The trauma experienced by our clients and the vicarious trauma of our staff need to be understood. The epidemic in self-harm, physiological distress and suicide attempts among our client group in low-threshold services must be acknowledged, and the things we can change to improve matters must be changed.

The Chairman agreed at the start of the meeting that the remaining time would be divided equally between all the groups present. On that basis, with four groups present I propose to have eight minutes per group. It is up to each group to divide that time between its members. For the first group, Senator Fitzpatrick will take the eight minutes.

I sincerely thank the witnesses not just for appearing before the committee today but for all the work they do every day. It is tremendous. They are dealing with the most vulnerable people in our society. We talk about the big numbers in Housing for All such as 300,000 homes and so forth, but it comes down to the individual lived experience of the people who suffer homelessness. The witnesses and the people who work with them are at the coalface, and we appreciate the work they do.

I have some questions. I refer to the opening statement by Mr. Dennigan regarding the causes and prevention of homelessness, particularly the issue of illegal evictions and the moratorium on evictions. We discussed this issue with representatives of the DRHE and the Department when they were before the committee previously. The representatives of the DRHE clearly stated that it is not illegal evictions or evictions that are driving homelessness, but a number of other factors. It is not funds either. They said clearly that funding is not an issue now. However, what they clearly stated was an issue is the supply of built properties, because we are coming out of a decade of undersupply and we have had two construction lockdowns in the last two years. Mr. Dennigan mentioned small landlords leaving, which is a major problem.

How do we keep small landlords? How do we increase supply in the immediate and short term? I heard what Mr. Dennigan said. He believes people who are homeless tonight will not be homeless in three years' time. That is great news, but three years is a long time.

Mr. Pat Dennigan

It is a long time and even with the best will in the world it will take a long time to get construction back in place and get the right types of houses in the right places. Our view is that prevention is the key issue that we need to deal with right now. We want to prevent people falling into the trap of homelessness in the first place, which can then lead on into trauma impacts and everything else for individuals and for families. That is key.

Does that include increasing the HAP?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

HAP is a major issue at the moment. There is no question about that. It is an issue around the country. It is having an effect on people in terms of drawing on the resources that they can use in other areas. They are obviously some of the most marginalised people we see in society.

What about acquiring properties through lease?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

Acquiring properties is something we have called for, and it is something we think should be considered very carefully. It has its place, in particular where households have support needs. Among others, we are willing to step into that breach with the support of the local authorities. It does not have to be a widespread initiative, but there are cases where it could have a major impact.

What about leasing properties?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

There is a difficulty in leasing properties at the moment. The key element is to increase supply and make sure that we have more units, especially one-bed units in the city and in the major population centres.

We also see it as key to make sure that people with support needs are supported and that the services that they need in order to keep their homes are funded and provided.

I am on the north side of Dublin city. There were no new social or affordable homes built in the area in the past ten years. That is just a reality. To be fair, all of the services know my constituency very well because a large number of emergency accommodation services are being provided there. The Government has committed €20 billion to build homes, but it will take time. In the short term, do we ask the Government to take leases on properties that are built today and take people out of substandard emergency accommodation where they cannot cook a meal, wash their clothes or do homework with their children? Is there a place for that?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

That also has its place. There is no doubt about that. Anything that will increase the supply for people in emergency accommodation is definitely worthwhile. There is no question about that, but it is not just that; we also need to provide the services and supply that go along with it. What is key is to stop people falling into that trap and moving into emergency accommodation in the first place. There has been a marked trend in people leaving the marketplace as landlords and we must do anything we can to stop that.

How can we stop them leaving?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

There are ways we can do it. What typically tends to happen is that private rented accommodation is not going back into the sector. At best, there is a gap period where one landlord leaves and another landlord buys the property. At worst, it moved out of the private rented sector altogether and, as a result, the supply is further reduced for people on the lowest rung of the ladder who are seeking to rent properties.

From my experience over the past five years in Dublin city, landlords who bought properties 20 or 30 years ago saw the value of the property drop dramatically in the crash and when the property prices began to rise again, they wanted to sell the properties, as that was their pension. Where a local authority could purchase the home and keep the family that was renting in situ, as they were on the housing list anyway, that prevented the family becoming homeless. Is that the type of measure Mr. Dennigan is talking about?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

Yes, that would be a key measure going forward in such cases.

Okay. I wish to move on to questions for the Mendicity Institution. Its report also talks to an issue we have considered, which is private emergency accommodation. We must get away from it, but it will take time. Of the 96 people who completed the survey, two thirds of them do not qualify for social housing.

Ms Louisa Santoro

No, it was more. Out of 105, 92% did not qualify.

Could Ms Santoro tell us why they do not qualify for social housing?

Ms Louisa Santoro

A local authority housing application is assessed under five headings: that one is working; is studying; that one has a medical need; children in school in the area and; a local connection. It could be that if people are working, they are working for too short a time, or they might not have a local connection. If someone had been working in Wexford and arrives in Dublin, that person has no local connection here. There are myriad barriers in people's way.

A lot of the respondents were homeless for more than two years. Surely, they have a local connection after two years.

Ms Louisa Santoro

No, because their time in homelessness does not count. The longer people stay in emergency accommodation, effectively, the fewer opportunities they have to move out. That is why we need to approach this with a sense of urgency, so that when people arrive in emergency accommodation, resources need to be applied swiftly because if people are there for 18 months or two years, while their needs may not be complex on day one, they certainly are after 18 months.

I will share the Sinn Féin slot with Deputy Andrews. On behalf of the two of us, I thank the witnesses for the presentations and also in particular their front-line staff in Dublin, Cork and the south west for the enormous amount of work they have been doing, especially in the very difficult Covid circumstances.

It is hard not to have an appalling sense of déjà vu when we have these conversations, as we do periodically. While the phrase "returning to normal as we exit Covid" is a very good phrase for most people in most aspects of their lives, it is the wrong thing that is currently happening. From everything we have heard in the presentations today, we are slipping back into the pre-Covid set of realities. For me, the worry is that in a committee like this, we can end up getting so focused on the details of the 17 recommendations or a set of proposals that it gets lost. I do not mean to the witnesses or to us but in the wider debate.

This is a tough question, but I wish to ask it of each of the groups represented today, given that we are now seeing an increase in homelessness again. The cold weather initiative will end quite soon and some of those in emergency accommodation that have habitual residency condition issues, as Ms Santoro mentioned, are at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping. If there was one intervention that each of the groups wanted to stress that the Minister should take now, what would be the crucial one so that we do not end up back where we were in 2017 and 2018 with ever-escalating levels of homelessness among families and single people month on month, and an expansion of emergency accommodation in the public and private sectors. There is genuine fear when I look at the loss of properties in the private rental sector, rising rents and in particular the exit figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive report on Friday. I am more concerned now than I have been at any other stage since the peak in 2018. I know I am putting the witnesses on the spot. I am keen to hear from Cork Simon as well. Our committee is going to have to do something and to communicate with the Minister and give him some recommendations. Given that most of the 17 recommendations either have not been implemented or have not been fully implemented, it would be helpful if we had a shorter list coming out of this meeting.

Dr. Dermot Kavanagh

I will come in first. We are in an emergency situation when it comes to homelessness and housing. If I am allowed, I will suggest two things rather than one. First, it used to be the case that the private rented sector offered a viable pathway out of homelessness. That has become increasingly difficult, in particular for single homeless people over the past several years. The HAP rate has not shifted since 2016 for a one-bed unit in Cork, which is five years.

There are approximately 300 homeless people in the city, most of whom are single people. The HAP rate is stuck at €550 or €660, if the 20% uplift is offered. The price in 2016 for a one-bed apartment in Cork city centre was already expensive, at around €850. It is now €1,500 and it is €1,200 in the suburbs. The HAP has totally lost touch with reality, at least in Cork. It is vital to get that pathway back and operating, as is increasing the uplift and reviewing the overall HAP rate.

Second, this is a bit like emergency medicine and is about triage. When one looks at our 2021 figures in the Cork Simon Community shelter, it is notable again that the group of people who have been homeless for the longest term represents 6% of those who availed of our shelter or Night Light service in 2021 and accounted for 50% of the bed nights. While it is extremely welcome to see that Housing First is now part of the mainstream response to homelessness, I was disappointed that in Cork and the south west, the number of extra new tenancies to be created is actually a reduction year on year. In the previous three years, the target had been 28 tenancies per year but under the new plan, it is 21 tenancies per year. That is quite disappointing.

We deliver the service in the south west in partnership with Focus Ireland. We have exceeded the pre-existing targets for tenancies in the city already. If you want to create more space in emergency shelter, it is about getting the long-term homeless people into housing with the supports that they need. Housing First does that. The faster it can go and the more units that can be prioritised for homeless people, especially for those in the long-term homeless group, the more we can ease the pressure on the services. Those are my two main points.

I remind Deputy Ó Broin that he has two minutes left in his slot. He can manage that time in whichever way he wishes.

I will give it to Deputy Andrews. If others would come back to us in writing with their recommendations to the committee, that would be helpful.

On the Housing First national implementation plan, there was mention of when a service user has a choice as to whether they are willing to engage with the Housing First plan and the services that are offered to them. I see in inner-city communities that what very often happens is that the person disregards any work they are doing when they get a flat in a particular flat complex. This can lead to challenges for the local community but also for the individual themselves. They are very often quite vulnerable. They end up being targeted by unpleasant types of people. It causes a difficulty. For me, Housing First needs to be better funded. There needs to be a more comprehensive range of wraparound services. This is because clearly people are being left to their own devices after a certain time. It is not good for them and is not good for the particular community in which they live. Would witnesses agree that an increase in funding for Housing First is needed? Any witness may reply. I know Mr. Allen from the City Council.

Mr. Mike Allen

Absolutely, but the Deputy needs to take into account that the previous round of Housing First services was tendered out on the basis that the lowest bid got to deliver the service. In Dublin, there was a large gap between the amount of money that the State had made available for delivering Housing First services and the amount of money that was paid to the contractor who was delivering the service. Therefore, if the service is finding itself unable to provide the resources to deliver the service quality - I do not know if this is the case but the Deputy seems to be saying that - then the Deputy needs to look closely at whether it is appropriate to put out social services to the most vulnerable people in our society on the basis that they be given to people who would provide them on the cheapest basis.

We will move on to the Fine Gael slot and to Senator Cummins, who has eight minutes.

I will just take the first couple of minutes and then hand over Deputy Higgins. I think it was Mr. Dennigan who, in response to Senator Fitzpatrick, seemed reluctant to say that leasing had a benefit. Am I taking that up wrong? What are his thoughts in relation to that? Obviously, anything that increases supply and provides people with secure tenancies is surely of benefit in keeping people outside of emergency accommodation.

Mr. Pat Dennigan

Certainly, leasing has its place. That question was about whether direct leasing by the local authority for the provision of social housing could have a benefit, and it could. Anything that would increase the supply of available housing for people who are in emergency accommodation has its place. We need to look at it in those terms. There are structural issues with the way the leasing plan is constructed for approved housing bodies at the moment. These make it difficult to apply the leasing provisions for approved housing bodies at the moment. This is a set of proposals that we could look at to help achieve a better balance in how that works but by all means, leasing by the local authorities has its place in the provision of social housing.

Further to that, before I hand over to Deputy Higgins, there is no constraint on the use of the repair and lease scheme by the approved housing bodies. It has been used to great success in Waterford in providing those exact one- and two-bedroom properties that we are talking about here today. They have a role in removing people from homeless or emergency accommodation and in providing them with their own-front-door accommodation. Has Focus Ireland utilised that? Is there a reason why it is not being utilised further? I believe that the Peter McVerry Trust is using it to some extent. What is Focus Ireland’s use of it, or view on that?

Mr. Pat Dennigan

We have used it in the past. However, if the structure of the proposal was looked at in more detail, particularly around the long-term maintenance and upkeep costs of properties and if that balance could be re-addressed, it would be much more suitable. It could result in more approved housing bodies being able to avail of that particular scheme. However, as it stands, there are particular difficulties.

The structure is the responsibility of the owner of the property, under the repair and lease scheme, as I am sure Mr. Dennigan is aware. That is the main constraint or concern in relation to the full structure of the building. Mr. Dennigan has answered that sufficiently and I will hand over to Deputy Higgins.

I thank Senator Cummins. My questions are to Mr. Dennigan and to Ms Santoro. In Mr. Dennigan's opening statement, he spoke about his vision for milestones on the path to the 2030 goal of ending homelessness. I would love to learn more about what he feels those milestones should be. While Senator Fitzpatrick touched on this earlier, I know that Mr. Dennigan has some specific proposals on how we could proactively delay landlords who may want to leave the rental market. I would be interested in hearing about that. Focus Ireland’s trauma-informed approach to service provision is progressive. It sounds like the training that has been done with Focus Ireland staff will be exceptionally valuable and that it will revolutionise how Focus Ireland works with its clients.

To Ms Santoro, I was quite disappointed to hear that only three of the people who were surveyed had key workers working with them. I would be interested to hear about what Ms Santoro thinks are the hurdles to getting those key workers. We had the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, into the committee only an hour or so ago.

It had some very encouraging statistics around key workers. At this stage, all of the families with the DRHE have key workers and many of the individuals it is working with have a housing support worker. What challenges does the Mendicity Institution find and how do we break that down?

I fully endorse the recommendation around being able to more freely transfer from one local authority housing list to another. I note that the majority of the Mendicity Institution’s clients are not currently on a housing list and are not, therefore, eligible for accommodation. I ask for information on why people are not eligible and whether there are challenges we should be looking at from a policy perspective.

Ms Louisa Santoro

In regard to the people we asked who did not have the support of a regular key worker, they are not entitled to a regular key worker because they are in private emergency accommodation and there are no key workers. The DRHE may have given the Deputy a statistic around a housing support worker. A housing support worker will monitor somebody along an application process. If the person is not entitled to make an application, the support worker can monitor him or her along that forever. The housing support workers have a caseload of about 50 or 60 each. They are not key workers, they are not support workers and it is not a generalist support provision. There are no on-site supports at the private emergency hostels so people do not have any access to a regular key worker. Arguably, the three people who did have access to a key worker are in supported temporary accommodation and the others are not.

Are they not getting a key worker because they are not qualified for social housing? Is that the gate? If they do not qualify for social housing or do not qualify to get on the housing list in the first instance, everything flows from that point.

Ms Louisa Santoro

Everything flows from that, yes.

Mr. Pat Dennigan

In regard to the first question on the milestones applicable in getting to eradicate homelessness, what we see as the first priority is around prevention. We recognise that in the coming years construction and supply of housing need to ramp up significantly and anything we can do to accelerate that, particularly the supply of social housing, is vital. That is the first point.

From a prevention perspective, Mr. Kavanagh mentioned the characteristics in the market in Cork and these apply directly right across Dublin and other places. The HAP issue is vital around the country and needs to be dealt with urgently.

There are two other matters that we think deserve prioritisation. One is around the youth homelessness strategy and we are working with the Department in that regard. I know a public consultation is being developed for that and the strategy is in progress. We have fed into that and we see it as very important because it is a key area for people who are some of the most vulnerable in our society.

The last point is to try to address the whole area of family homelessness, particularly the issue of children in emergency accommodation and how that can be time-shortened and prevented.

I thank the witnesses for their contributions and the work that has been done. I have a question for Ms Santoro on that point about people not being able to get onto the housing waiting list and not being able to exit homelessness. They may be developing complex needs while they are in and out of private emergency accommodation and they could be sleeping rough. What are the barriers to getting on the housing waiting list that could be tackled and what needs to be done in that regard?

Ms Louisa Santoro

As an application process, it is a 25-page application that is extremely wordy, requires a massive amount of documentation and is assessed under five headings. It is not user-friendly. We deal with many people who have literacy and language issues, so a 25-page form is outside of their scope. Nobody is helping them with this. The forms go back and forth and are ping-ponged for an extended period of time. We have to simplify the housing application process, which would make a huge difference. Without that housing application, in any local authority, people do not stand a chance. In any of the discussions we are having about Housing First or housing assistance payment, they do not get there - they do not even get the support of a key worker in supported temporary accommodation. It is a critical takeaway for this committee.

We heard from the DRHE earlier about the inspections process and how it is to have an inspection process for buildings and a separate inspections process for support services and quality issues for private emergency accommodation. Does Ms Santoro have a view on that?

Ms Louisa Santoro

I can only speak to the experience of the people who use our services. We are focused on a particular group, which is those in private emergency hostels. There is no on-site support. There may be an inspection of the building, which should tell us whether there is a working fire alarm or a certain number of staff on-site, but there is no support for these individuals. If things go wrong, they have nobody to go to. Again, I am pointing back to the lack of knowledge of who is running those services. There is no method for us to communicate with somebody who is in a hostel. The nature of the complaints we hear is hair-raising and there is nowhere we can go with those complaints. It speaks to people's direct experience of violence in the hostels. Any inspection of a physical nature of the fabric of the building is welcome but we cannot have people at their most vulnerable in hostels where there is no on-site support. That is reckless.

I have a question for Simon. Recommendation No. 12 touches on a point that was raised earlier by Focus Ireland. It states that emergency accommodation for homeless people is best delivered by experienced homeless services rather than for-profit private operators. Simon suggests that it is not convinced that competitive tendering, which is open to such private operators, is the best approach to commissioning those services. Does Simon consider it is a problem in terms of providing services for people who are homeless that it can be open to competitive tendering, where quality is perhaps not considered as much and it is more about the lowest bidder?

Mr. Wayne Stanley

When it comes to tendering, the State has to make sure its expenditure is well expended and that the best possible outcomes are achieved. What we can do is look at best practice and the quality of services we want, and ask people to compete on being able to get the best outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. When we look to tendering, that is the benchmark we should be looking at.

Mr. Stanley is not convinced that is happening at present.

Mr. Wayne Stanley

No. It is not about giving an amount of money and asking “What can you do with this?” or “Who can do it the cheapest?” It would be better to say, “We are willing to expend this amount of money and what is the best possible service we can get for it?” It is a different question. There is a compromise there somewhere. I am not saying that is the be-all and end-all, but it is a focus. We can look at the way tendering is done at the moment.

Ms Louisa Santoro

I do not think we are looking at like-for-like services. With regard to the standards of regulation that apply to NGOs and charities, the bar is set much higher. If we are working with a private emergency hostel, people do not have to have any background in social care, they do not have to be Garda vetted and they have zero training. We are talking here about trauma-informed care. This does not exist in the provision of private emergency accommodation for profit. It is not like-for-like tendering. What Simon, Focus Ireland, Novas and the Mendicity Institution can do is completely different. We are not being given a fair shot in terms of competition. We also need to look at the value in regard to how long people stay in hostels. We are looking at this from January to December. If people are three years in accommodation, which looks cheaper on paper, it is not cheaper.

As Ms Santoro said, they could be developing complex needs.

I want to ask Focus Ireland about the issue around inter-county transfers and the social housing lists. How important is that and what needs to be done?

Mr. Mike Allen

It is important and it comes up from time to time. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to create a passport, which would help people to transfer in the social housing realm, where it has been shown to be very helpful. It would make a big difference for people who are homeless. The idea that a person needs to be linked to a particular county when homeless is an ancient one and not particularly helpful. A much better approach would be what is in the best interests of the person. Ms Hayes referred to this earlier.

She spoke about a person who wanted to be in homeless accommodation but was told there was a reluctance to send the person back to where he or she had been because there was a Housing First option available there. It was clearly in that person's interest not to be in Dublin. Very often, the choice is not necessarily made on the basis of what is in the person's best interests.

The issue of private emergency accommodation is addressed in our submission. One of the important issues in the context of regional variation is that there are completely different patterns of provision of private emergency accommodation in each region. I ask the committee to consider the data we published on that. Most of the private emergency accommodation is for families. Many of the issues that have been raised here by the Mendicity Institution and so on do not apply to that family accommodation. It is private emergency accommodation for single people that is the particularly problematic area. I do not think that has ever gone out for a competitive tender between a voluntary organisation and a private organisation. The history of how private provision of accommodation for single persons came into Dublin is more complicated than that. It is about the standards the voluntary organisations that provide emergency accommodation wanted to provide and the amount of money that was available to deliver it. Focus Ireland does not provide emergency accommodation or run shelters. It is much more complicated in this case than simply a competition between people doing it on the cheap and people doing it well.

I thank Mr. Allen.

We have reached the end of our meeting. Two members are indicating. Senator Fitzpatrick has a quick question and Deputy Ó Broin is seeking a response to his earlier request for our guests to provide a suggestion each. They may have thought they were off the hook. I ask all contributors to be brief as we are over time.

My question is for Dr. Burns. I thank her for her participation today and all the work she is doing. In terms of the updating that is being undertaken by the Minister for Justice of the policy on combating violence against women, gender-based violence and domestic violence, the Minister is pursuing four pillars, namely, prevention, protection, policy and prosecution. The protection part of it primarily relates to housing and the requirement for a commitment to increase the number of refuges and capacity in the existing refuges. I hope Dr. Burns will tell me she or her organisation is engaged in that as a stakeholder and is contributing to it.

I ask contributors to limit their response to one minute, please.

Dr. Una Burns

We are not involved in that process at the moment. A couple of years ago, refuges and homelessness were separated. People who experience domestic violence are not included in the official number of people who are experiencing homelessness at the moment. They are quite separate matrices in terms of the way they are measured. I am not sure that is really helpful because many of the women we support, particularly in our dedicated female services in Dublin, but also right throughout the country in our mixed-gender services, are victims of domestic violence, as well as sexual and gender-based violence. Domestic violence is the reason they are homeless, so there needs to be more cohesion between those two sectors. It would be great to be involved in that process.

I propose that the committee write to the Minister for Justice to ask her to engage with Novas. It is an obvious thing to do. We will take that action arising from this meeting.

I am in the hands of the committee, if that is agreed.

Mr. Pat Dennigan

I will briefly give my ask or maybe my one and a half asks. As others have stated, the whole issue in respect of HAP is vital at the moment. I refer in particular to the usage of HAP on a preventative basis to make sure people do not fall into the trap of homelessness in the first place. On the final follow-up question, I point to the fact that in our submission we refer to a research report published before Christmas on domestic violence and homelessness and the implications in that regard, which is really important.

Ms Louisa Santoro

My ask is still the revision of the housing application process because we have to acknowledge this-----

What specifically is Ms Santoro seeking to have changed within the process?

Ms Louisa Santoro

It is that people who are homeless be automatically deemed to have a housing need. There are people outside this room who would be baffled to learn that 100 people in a hostel for homeless people have no housing need as defined by a local authority. That is-----

They are not recognised as having a housing need. It needs to be simplified.

Ms Louisa Santoro

There is a need to make it simple for applicants and local authorities, to make sure there is better communication between local authorities and to do away with the parish-by-parish approach when it comes to people coming from other counties.

I call Mr. Stanley. Mr. Kavanagh has contributed already but if he wishes to come back in, he is welcome to do so.

Mr. Wayne Stanley

The HAP one is obviously the immediate thing we can do. There is a need for more work on prevention. The only other thing, which is a follow-on from the repair and leasing scheme, relates to vacant and derelict properties. Those properties can be turned around really quickly. There is enormous capacity in cities and towns in this respect, so we need to find a way not just of bringing them back in, but making sure they are brought back in and attached to the local authority or an approved housing body so as to ensure they are brought in as affordable accommodation. That is a significant win that can be achieved. It is a medium-term objective, but it is much quicker than waiting for greenfield projects to come on site.

I thank our guests for being with us today. A bit like the previous session, we jammed a lot in. I apologise if our guests were cut off by members at times - it was just to ensure we got through so many different topics.

I am advised by the clerk that proposals are normally put at the end the meeting. We will do our best. Perhaps the specific request in respect of Novas will be put to the committee at our next private meeting, when all members are present. That would be good practice, on the advice of the clerk.

I support the proposal made by Senator Fitzpatrick. We should have an agenda item for the next meeting relating to our letter to the Minister in response to the various things we have heard today. We may wish to write to her on a couple of issues. I wish to make that formal proposal.

Let us propose that the Chairman raise that at the next private meeting, which will take place next week. I thank our guests. It is great to have people back in the room and be able to engage with them. I hope this does not see the end of Zoom forever as it has its benefits, but it is certainly good to have our guests in the room with us. I thank them for attending.

The joint committee adjourned at 6.07 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. on Thursday, 10 February 2022.