As the Chair will recall, the Second Stage of this Homeless Persons Bill was last discussed in this House on 12 December when I made a contribution which I had not completed. It is worth putting this on the record at the beginning of my contribution today. In the interim, we have had the publication of the report of the ad hoc committee on the homeless which was primarily convened by the Department of Health because they felt health boards had an increasing housing element in the problems coming before them, especially those dealing with homeless people. That report has not been widely circulated. It was with some difficulty that I managed to get a copy. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment may not be in a position to release it generally. The report went into considerable detail. It contains many serious comments on the position of the homeless and it is a document which would be of great interest to Members of this House and Members of the other House. Now, many months after it has been published, the Department of Health might take the trouble to make it available generally to Members of these Houses. That has not been done so far.
I said in the course of my contribution on the last occasion that a part of the problem with this Bill is the extent of the demand on existing housing accommodation available in the State and on the extent of accommodation being built at present. The present house building programme of the local authorities amounts to some 6,000 dwellings annually. There are about 30,000 family applicants. The elderly are creating an increasing demand on the services, given the longevity of people. Medical science has developed so much that people are living longer. I came across a statistic recently showing that some 30,000 people under the care of the Eastern Health Board are over the age of 75 years. This is an illustration of the extent of the demand on housing, not just from those who are family applicants but from those in the elderly category.
In the course of my contribution the last day I mentioned that within the housing category there are a considerable number of homeless people who either have applied or would like to apply if they knew how to deal with the method of applying for housing accommodation. It is fair to say that a very large number of the people whom we are speaking about have spent a considerable part of their early life at work of some kind. I described in some detail the fact that there is a high percentage of them men, that 46 per cent of them have been treated for an alcohol-related problem and very many of them have psychotic problems of other descriptions. In the main, they are people who find it hard to cope with making an application, pursuing the various ways in which one can bring about a situation where the points might be improved and where the system is used to its full to ensure that they have a real chance of being housed.
I mentioned also that Dublin Corporation, of which I am a member, and indeed my former colleague, the Minister of State, was a member until recently, decided this year to allocate 50 dwellings annually to the homeless. They are in the course of doing that at the moment in the flat schemes throughout the city. It is intended to pursue it and have another 50 in the following period. At least an attempt has been made to start in that direction. The problem is, of course, that you are dealing with an unknown number of applicants. It is very hard to say precisely, if there was a move, such as that intended in this Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983, whereby there was a statutory duty on the housing authority to provide accommodation for the homeless, how many you would have.
It is not just a matter of handling the 30,000 families who are applicants; there are some 1,400 elderly who are looking for accommodation from Dublin Corporation at the moment. They have a building programme, I understand, providing 300 maisonettes with warden and community rooms at the present time. If you open the gates, if there is a statutory duty to look after the homeless, you are not just talking of hostel dwellers, of which there are 1,000 in this city at present.
The record in Glasgow city is that 85 per cent of those people housed from the hostels have, in fact, been able to cope well in running their own homes. They have been given that opportunity. The pride they take in this is something that is very reassuring and should be considered very seriously in advancing the position of the homeless, in giving them a real position of strength in our housing allocation system in the forseeable future. The fact that they have been so very well able to cope in outside hostel and institutional environments is an encouragement to all of us here who are interested in finding a solution to the problem.
We are not just dealing with hostel dwellers but with people in private rented accommodation. It is fair to say that much of the private rented accommodation we are speaking about, throughout the city and elsewhere, in many cases is much worse accommodation than exists in any part of a public housing estate. The degree to which we have been able to provide decent standards of accommodation and insist on those standards being improved in our legislative arrangements to date is a very serious reflection on the manner in which the Department of the Environment and the local authorities have operated to try to ensure beyond the area of public housing that the housing that is provided elsewhere is up to a proper standard.
The last reform of the Public Health Act in this area relating to the standard of sanitary accommodation and other matters dates back to the last century. We did something about private rented accommodation when we were dealing with rent control two years ago, although we took that on in two swipes. We tried a Bill and found that it did not suit the needs of the category we are speaking about, mainly the elderly living in private rented accommodation, and we came in with another Bill. Both followed on a constitutional action won in the courts, and really should have been faced up to by the Department of the Environment long before that. Outside the area of protection in the private rented sector we do not seem to be bothered as a State, as a Department of the Environment, as a Government — I say that irrespective of which Government are in office — about the standards of private rented accommodation in this city and elsewhere. I hope this will be looked at by the Department in framing the new legislation which I understand is at an advanced stage at this time.
The Leader of the House announced on last week's Order of Business that there would be a two hour debate on the Homeless Persons Bill today. In dealing with that, the Leader of the House announced that the Government had given approval for the heads of a comprehensive Bill on housing matters and not purely on the way in which the Government would deal with the Homeless Persons Bill, but in other areas of need in relation to housing and in reforming the housing code. He told us there would be a comprehensive Bill before these Houses shortly and in fact the matter is now with the parliamentary draftsman to prepare the Bill. Presumably the Minister will be making a commentary during today's debate in relation to that matter. That would reassure Senators on all sides of the House that the Government are treating this measure seriously and that it is being advanced in an orderly way.
I hope the Chair will understand that I have to repeat some of my contribution of the last occasion. When one spoke approximately six months ago and one was building up to a certain point and then was asked to adjourn the debate, one has to lead in by repeating some of the points one made then. I said then that I think the history of public housing and the way in which the local authorities regarded their role, I suppose up to about a decade ago, was one of housing families. The old approach to things was if a mother or a wife went into the local housing authority — it was certainly the case in Dublin Corporation — and asked if she could get a house or a flat, whether she could move from her single room or from her mother's floor, as it is locally called here in the centre of Dublin, she was told "Well, Pauline, — or Mary — you better go home and get a few children". The housing code at that time certainly put great emphasis on the number of children you had. That emphasis was, up to recently, a very significant part of being housed at all. The emphasis has changed with the introduction of the points scheme. I am glad to say that the through-put of that has been seen in dealing with the housing of applicants. The number of young married couples with one child who no longer have to survive on their mother's floor, or in their mother's flat, or house, but who are housed separately as a new family institution has increased over the years.
One of the sources of a great amount of family disharmony and of family problems has been the fact that for so long we have done nothing about the position of doubling and trebling of families in a house or a flat. The Department of the Environment and the housing authorities have been responsible for that move. Indeed, members of local authorities make no mean contributions to these changes. We have moved ahead from that and are in a position now where in the city of Dublin the small family get a real chance of housing and of setting themselves up with a home in the early stages.
The record of the past was of families getting all the attention and those families being allocated accommodation on the basis of the number of children in the homestead and with direct encouragement given to increase the family size. In the last decade we have had changes relating to the arrival of the points scheme which is widely used by local authorities throughout the country, a scheme which deals with the sharing of accommodation, sanitary conditions and so on, of housing applicants. We have a much more humanitarian approach to the applicant. Applicants know in detail where they stand, what the chances of being housed are, what is being built and how that might fall into their overall possibility of being housed in a suitable way.
Apart from that, we moved into building a significant amount of dwellings for the elderly. The maisonette developments that are going on throughout the country now for the elderly, those particularly who are in sheltered accommodation of one form or another, are a very important contribution to the housing needs of the people. Although I do not believe for a moment that we are matching the demand for these services, we certainly have made great steps forward in this area.
As I say, remaining outside the scope of the housing authorities are the homeless. That is not to say that there is not an occasional homeless person housed or that an occasional homeless person has not been housed over the last decade. The numbers are remarkably few, largely because there has been no real attempt to assist those homeless people who, as I said earlier, are in very many cases those who have had a psychiatric, alcoholic or psychotic difficulty in their lives. If you live in a private rented house with sizeable rooms but have very little sanitary accommodation, very little opportunity to treat yourself as you should be treated by others, where the rent is high, where the arrangement is not permanent and where very often there is squalor, there is not much opportunity to get out of such places. You can get a closing order and there can be steps taken to house people elsewhere but these are of an emergency nature. There are people living in buildings where the arm of the State has not budged for far too long in ensuring a decent standard of accommodation, in improving bathroom accommodation, improving services within the house and ensuring that those services are provided for a due rent.
The area of rent restrictions, which we spoke of earlier, is quite a separate category. I am speaking of those who live in private rented accommodation, but whose standard of accommodation is not affected in the main by the State, by the Department of the Environment and, worse still, the housing stock is badly affected by the lack of attention, by the lack of involvement by the Department of the Environment in the upkeep of standards. It is because of the encouragement of housing grants into these situations that there is an improvement in standards and an improvement which in the long run will take some of the pressure off the public housing list.
It is very encouraging to hear that the ad hoc committee of the Department of Health not alone had their report published but within the report there are a number of things that are significant and there are important messages from those who took part in the debate, those who were responsible for preparing this document. The committee had representatives from a variety of health boards throughout the country — the Eastern Health Board, the Western Health Board, the Midland Health Board as well as representatives from the Department of Health, the Department of the Environment, the Kilkenny County Council, the Westmeath County Council and Dublin Corporation. Mr. Des Flanagan, who up to recently was an assistant city manager in the corporation, was on that committee and indeed served after he retired. He is a man with considerable experience in housing in the city.
This group got together and the document was made available, as I said earlier, in a manner that is not normal in the sense that you had to work hard to get a copy of it. I can only give the Minister my experience, which I will go into in detail with him later if he likes. Senator Brendan Ryan lent me his copy and after I got it I wrote to the Department of Health looking for a copy. Some two months later I was conveniently looked after by the Department of Health. That comes from a Department who were to some extent involved in the matter we are talking about, who had set up an ad hoc committee.
It would seem to me, given the significance of this document and the fact that it says a number of things of quite considerable importance relating to the category of homelessness, that it might have been appropriate for the Minister for Health, or the Minister for the Environment, to have let the press know, to let the country know that this document is now available and can be purchased. It would be a welcome kind of approach to a document that is of considerable length.
It contains appendices covering about 50 or 60 pages. I will not set all the matters contained in this report on the record but there are a few matters about which I feel I should certainly alert the House. They say in paragraph 4.7:
The distinction between the needs of a homeless person for temporary or permanent accommodation in towns by which agency that need should be met is not clearly drawn and practised. While primary responsibility for the provision of housing to those not able to house themselves rests with local authorities it is inevitable, given the limitations and resources, that there will be single homeless persons whose needs and capabilities may suit them for permanent housing but who will not be able to obtain such accommodation because of the relatively low priority accorded to them on housing authority waiting lists. These persons may then be forced to fall back for accommodation, often for a protracted period, on those institutions either operated or financially supported by health boards, who should only have a minimal responsibility for the provision of housing accommodation.
That is a very important statement. We have been hearing for a long time about the history of the institutions run by the health boards and the county homes in which, traditionally, many of the people we are speaking about ended up. That statement seems to give the view of the ad hoc committee that the health board will from now on have a minimal responsibility relating to homelessness. It is important that we put that on the record and that we look at it from a number of aspects because it means that this is another area of less demand on the county homes and psychiatric hospitals. It should help in the switch of those who are in these institutions who could be cared for in the community. There is one very clear way in which we could be assisting that service in moving people into the community by discharging our responsibilities for the homeless.
It goes on to say in paragraph 4.8:
In discharging their responsibility to house persons in need housing authorities direct their efforts primarily to families and individuals.
Those individuals are the individuals I was speaking about earlier, the elderly, those in need of permanent housing rather than temporary accommodation or capable of holding an independent tenancy. Over the years the authorities catered for many families rendered homeless for one reason or another. Any homeless family comprising of parent or parents with one child or more is normally quickly accommodated by local authorities.
I shall mention two more things relating to the ad hoc committee's report. The report also emphasises what I said earlier about the experience in Glasgow where 85 per cent of homeless persons were, after a period of years, found to be able to live outside the environment of an institution, outside the hostel, were able to build their own homes and get considerable pride from the new accommodation they were in and survive there with the dignity that each human being in our community should at least be given if at all possible. Many homeless persons make the transition quite successfully from a state of being homeless to settling in permanent accommodation given adequate preparation and minimal support. There are those among the homeless whose problems cannot be solved by the provision of permanent housing, some do not want to settle in permanent accommodation and others would not be able to hold down an independent tenancy. Many require special medical and other care. The problems of these persons are not answered solely by the provision of housing.
I have spoken of the tremendous work being done for the homeless in Dublin; it is a European example of how this matter should be looked after. That is the work of Dr. Joe Fernandez who runs a very important assessment centre at St. Brendan's Hospital. It is both an inpatient and an out-patient facility. I would like to compliment Dr. Joe Fernandez, as I did before on this arrangement. What he does there is well known. He has a large number of homeless people visiting his assessment centre and in many cases being treated there, either on a day basis in the day care centre or for a period in the institutional or the inpatient facility. Many homeless people here as in Glasgow would be able to live outside the institution where many of them live almost permanently or have lived almost permanently. The Salvation Army hostel in York Street is a very well run establishment, as the Minister of State and I know from visits there at times of elections and otherwise. I recently discovered that some 50 per cent of the people who live in the Salvation Army hostel live there permanently; it is their home. There is rarely a night when there is a vacancy within that hostel. The 50 per cent stay on there forever. There are other cases where there are big voids, where people do not want to live. There is some very good accommodation but the charges for staying there for the night are high and the administration run things differently; people are expected to be in by a certain hour at night and be out by a certain hour in the morning. Perhaps the breakfast is better in the Salvation Army hostel. I had it there one morning not long ago.
The Eastern Health Board are involved in considerable subsidisation of these hostels. This is another aspect of the need to find a solution to this problem. It must be possible for us, instead of putting money by subsidisation into these hostels, to move forward into recognising that the individual client in many instances is quite young, has had a problem — possibly a marital problem — problems within the family and so on. Many of these young people are well educated and, if facilitated in the right way, could be back to work after a short period.
With the availability of the centre in St. Brendan's Hospital, with the considerable experience that Dr. Joe Fernandez has in this area, I believe that the support services are there to assist those who are housed in a much more generous way by the local authorities, to assist them to cope with life outside institutional care and to get over the temporary problems they may have in surviving outside care of that kind. It is possible for us, with the advantages we have in St. Brendan's Hospital, to assist people in that transition in the housing situation.
The report also deals with the question of homelessness in another respect. It says that the committee recommend that housing authorities should seek to improve the information available to them on the level of needs in their area, having particular regard to the needs of groups such as the homeless who may be under-represented on the waiting list for housing. Information on the nature and extent of homelessness in the authority's area should be compiled on a regular basis, drawing on sources such as the authority's own social workers and housing staff and voluntary bodies operating in the area and so on. The authority should also have regard to homelessness in their assessment of housing needs carried out under section 53 of the Housing Act, 1966. The committee note that the Department of the Environment have, since 1983, obtained information on the number of homeless persons on the housing authority waiting list and the numbers housed by housing authorities.
What is fundamental to this whole issue in the foreseeable future is for the local authorities to compile lists of those who would be treated as homeless, those who have not been treated as homeless up to now. Public representatives dealing with an urban area in Ireland, and certainly in Dublin, would regard homelessness as an issue affecting those who, by way of eviction or otherwise, find themselves on the street. We are speaking of people who might have been housed but were not housed and given the dignity of their own dwelling, people housed in institutional care, in a psychiatric hospital or elsewhere, with the assistance of Dr. Fernandez unit in St. Brendan's Hospital. I am speaking of those who were very inadequately housed in private rented accommodation where the standards date back to the last century, to the 1898 Public Health Act.
There is a need to advance and take from this ad hoc committee's report the encouragement, which presumably would be a statutory encouragement, to housing authorities that in the foreseeable future a Bill, which is at present with the parliamentary draftsman will be before the House. There are many worthy reasons for having this Bill published. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the initiative of Senator Brendan Ryan in bringing this matter before the House, a matter which concerns an area that is not spoken of; people do not talk about it; it is not a big electoral issue. It could be, but so far these people are sufficiently well scattered not to affect anybody too much.
Homelessness is a humanitarian issue which deserves recognition. It has been recognised in other countries and other democracies. It is essential that we assign the statutory duty to the housing authorities and ensure that it is a duty which they take on as a special one, that it is not just included under the great arm of the housing authorities of cities like Dublin; that they manage to deal with it in a very special way; that they respond to it in a humanitarian way; that they expect from the applicants something different from what is expected from the normal applicant and that they give special points for the form of homelessness that we are speaking of. We should go to some trouble to ensure that they are on the list, are encouraged and looked after, and that we have a building programme under way to suit people of this category.
One of the problems of the housing situation generally is that in the period from December 1983 to the end of the year, a total of 1,500 units were built by Dublin Corporation, only 72 of which had fewer than three bedrooms. There is now a recognition of this problem. There is an attempt to put in 5 or 10 per cent of dwellings with less than three bedrooms in new housing developments in the city and county of Dublin. It is a very welcome development. The two-bedroomed cottage or bungalow or house was the "in" thing some years ago but went out of business in the course of the sixties, seventies and indeed half of the eighties. We did not build them. We did not build them because we thought the thing to do was to answer the problem with three-and four-bedroomed houses; indeed, that was answering a problem but it was not answering the whole problem. There was a demand for accommodation coming from couples who had an adult member of the family living with them. Any Member of this House who has to deal with them knows the trouble you have in getting suitable accommodation for them; the limited extent to which dwellings are available for that category is an enormous difficulty. It is much easier — believe it or not — to house the elderly person. It is very much more difficult when you have two elderly persons with an adult daughter or son living with them who need to be housed; in the housing jargon they call them a non-expanding family. That kind of family does not seem to fit into the way in which the resources have been spent over the last 15 years. It is high time we recognised that and did something about it. There has been an element of change but there is need for much more change.
Coupled with this, there should be a move, in the foreseeable future, to not just house the elderly — that is the over-sixties — but to start dealing with the homeless people under 60 and over 40 who perhaps require to be housed, who need to be given some space within the capital provision of each housing authority. It is not just a simple matter of housing them within the already built housing estates, in the low priority flats complexes where when a flat comes up occasionally one is offered to these people and you mix them in. I do not suggest either that you have a building filled with the homeless people who lived in the Salvation Army hostel or the Iveagh hostel. Within each new housing area it must be possible to introduce some units for this category, in the same way as we introduced some units for the small, non-expanding family. We should begin to give a mix to our housing development and we should ensure that this category, as well as other categories, is given the benefit of resources and that the resources are spent to provide for them.
I very much welcome the fact that I hear the Government Bill is now with the parliamentary draftsman and we may have a Bill of substantive nature shortly and that Bill will give a statutory duty to the housing authorities. I hope that as a follow-up to that, the Government of the day, the Department of the Environment, will see to it that the mix of new developments will include facilities for the small, non-expanding family and for the homeless, which is the principal motivation of this Bill, and that we will advance to a stage where we will not need to be spending to the extent which we now are in supporting the hostels and in supporting psychiatric hospitals where people are detained much longer in institutional conditions than necessary, because we have not recognised them and we have done very little about solving their problems. I hope we will move forward to a stage where we will direct the money in a much more positive direction and assist the housing of these people, give them a roof over their heads, give them a chance of dignity and pride as a result of the warmth and understanding of the community.
I believe that in a decade from now, if we take these steps and if the Government ensure that part of the capital housing allocation is earmarked for these categories we will end up with a much better balanced and healthier community instead of the situation in which we now are. A lady who lives in the Coombe in a new five-bedroomed house visited me the other day. She has one child living with her. Things happened whereby she was housed there; she had other members of her family with her at the time but now she has only one child there. Quite a number of people are living in very large new houses, built by the corporation and by other local authorities within the last five years. This is accommodation above their needs. We need a system which includes everybody, especially the small family and the homeless person. I believe we will get a more satisfactory housing code and response from the people in this direction.