The Government is committed to addressing the problem of homelessness and, in this regard, published a formal integrated strategy last May to tackle homelessness. This strategy provides for an integrated response to homelessness by all the agencies involved, both statutory and voluntary.
The essence of the strategy is the preparation of action plans by local authorities at both city and county level which will detail how accommodation, health, settlement and welfare services will be provided to homeless persons by all the agencies involved in providing these services. In addition, a homeless forum is being set up in each county under the auspices of the local authority housing strategic policy committees. Local authorities, together with health boards and voluntary bodies, are preparing these plans and have been urged to complete them as a matter of urgency.
The plan for the Dublin area is practically finalised and should be completed and adopted shortly. Under the strategy, local authorities are responsible for the provision of accommodation for homeless persons and health boards are responsible for the care and welfare needs of homeless persons, including the provision of in-house care. It is the case, however, that many voluntary bodies provide accommodation and care for homeless persons and their work is invaluable in this area.
Substantial additional funding is being made available to local authorities to ensure the measures in the strategy are implemented. Capital funding for the direct provision by local authorities of accommodation for homeless persons is being doubled from £20 million to £40 million over the next five years and current funding is being increased by £6 million per annum to increase bednight contribution rates to voluntary bodies and other support services.
Housing output in the voluntary housing sector is being increased to a target of 4,000 units per year over the lifetime of the national development plan. It is expected that at least half of these units will be provided under the capital assistance scheme which is used extensively to provide special needs housing for certain groups, especially the homeless. In addition, the expanded local authority housing programme of 25,000 units over the four year period 2000-03 will also provide additional accommodation for homeless persons.
On the health side, the Government strategy provides funding of £6 million a year for the care and welfare needs of homeless persons. The distribution of this funding to health boards is a matter for the Minister for Health and Children. It will take some time to ensure that all the services outlined in the strategy are put in place. However, the Government is anxious to ensure that services for homeless persons are improved in the meantime. It is a matter of serious concern that even one person should be homeless and forced to sleep on the streets of Dublin or anywhere else in the country. As part of the action plans, additional facilities and accommodation will be provided for people who are forced to sleep rough.
However, as it will take some time for these to be put in place, the Department of the Environment and Local Government recently asked Dublin Corporation to develop urgently proposals to provide additional night-time service facilities which would provide people on the streets with basic shelter and food at night as an emergency interim measure. Dublin Corporation is anxious to provide these facilities and is seeking suitable premises and facilities.
Another area where there has been some improvement recently is emergency bed and breakfast accommodation. The Government's strategy calls for the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for anything other than short-term emergency accommodation of less than one month, particularly for families, to be phased out.
At the instigation of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Dublin Corporation, as a first step, has carried out inspections of all such accommodation in the past year and has entered into agreements with landlords whereby many of these facilities have been converted into shared living accommodation rather than simply bed and breakfast accommodation. The residents now have free access to come and go so that they do not have to vacate their accommodation during the day, and there is 24 hour management and security. While this is a move in the right direction in that it resolves some of the acute difficulties, there is still a long way to go. This will take some time as alternative sources of accommodation will need to be found. In the meantime, local authorities will need to continue to use bed and breakfast accommo dation to accommodate homeless persons on an emergency basis, but the use of it will decrease as alternative accommodation becomes available.
A key element of the Government's strategy is the provision of additional accommodation and a greater variety of it to cater for the varying needs of homeless persons, including homeless families. In particular, additional transitional and move-on accommodation will be provided to enable people to move out of emergency accommodation, whether bed and breakfast accommodation or hostels, into accommodation that is more suitable to their needs.
We will see real improvements in the provision of accommodation and support services for homeless people. The Government has set out a clear framework and there is a genuine willingness to tackle homelessness. Local communities have a key role to play in supporting measures to be taken at local level to assist homeless persons and I hope the spirit of willingness to see the matter properly addressed carries through when it comes to providing services at local level. The Government has put a clear strategy in place to address homelessness in a comprehensive way and it is supported by the necessary funding and resources.