I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
" "homelessness action plan" has the meaning given to it by section 37;
"homelessness consultative forum" has the meaning given to it by section 38;
"homeless person" means a person who is regarded by a housing authority as being homeless within the meaning of section 2 of the Act of 1988 and "homeless" and "homeless household" shall be construed accordingly;
"joint homelessness consultative forum" shall be read in accordance with section 38;".
The placing of homeless action plans on a statutory basis has been the subject of considerable debate in the Seanad and on Second Stage in the Dáil. I am pleased to be in a position today to bring these amendments before the committee. The amendments are another important step on the ongoing progress being made to address homelessness. "The Way Home — A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland", which I published last August, sets out the key objectives of the policy on homelessness, which are to eliminate long-term occupation of emergency accommodation and the need to sleep rough. The strategy also contained a commitment to put homelessness action plans on a statutory basis. As signalled on Second Stage in the Dáil, I am bringing forward these amendments to make good on that undertaking.
Amendments 80 to 86 contain the substantive provision and insert a new Chapter 6, with seven sections, in Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with the functions of local authorities. The provisions establish a structured process involving homelessness consultative forums, management groups and the making and adoption of homelessness action plans by elected councils. The plans will specify the actions to be undertaken by the various stakeholders to meet broad objectives, including the prevention and reduction of homelessness and the promotion of effective co-ordination between the various bodies involved in the provision of homeless services.
The homelessness consultative forum will bring together the key players in the provision of homeless services, both statutory and non-statutory. Its structure mirrors at local level the cross-departmental team and the national homeless consultative committee, which provide the platform for consultation nationally. The forum will play a key role in the homelessness action plan structure as a forum for discussion and debate on homelessness, for inputting to the preparation of a homelessness action plan, and for the provision of views, reports and so on about the subsequent operation of a plan. The management group will complement the work of the homelessness consultative forum, but with functions separate from those of the forum, including a remit to make recommendations to housing authorities, the HSE and other relevant bodies in relation to homeless services, the preparation of a homelessness action plan, and the making of recommendations regarding funding for homeless services.
In addition to the substantive provision, there are a number of other related amendments in this grouping which have an important bearing on the issue. A number of new definitions are required in the main interpretation provision of the Bill in section 2, following on from the placing of homelessness action plans on a statutory basis. Amendment No. 2 provides for this with definitions of some of the main terms including “homelessness action plan”, “homelessness consultative forum”, “homeless person”, and “joint homelessness consultative forum” .
Amendment No. 16 seeks to provide for a more comprehensive listing of housing services in section 10 by including support, other than the provision of accommodation of financial assistance, to households that were formerly homeless or to tenants of dwellings of which the housing authority is the owner, or dwellings which are provided under a rental accommodation type of arrangement. The type of assistance envisaged is that which helps formerly homeless tenants to sustain and continue with their tenancies and supports for tenants of local authority-owned dwellings. The type of supports would include settlement services, outreach, advice, tenant training in estate management, research support, production of tenant handbooks and the employment of tenant liaison officers.
Amendment No. 18 is related to amendment No. 16 and reflects the need to fund the support services provided for in the newly inserted paragraph (b) in section 10. The amendment to paragraph (g) in section 12 is a technical amendment to allow for the inclusion of a new paragraph (h) to provide specifically for the financing of measures to be undertaken in accordance with the new section 10(b)(i). Amendment No. 26 provides for the inclusion of a new paragraph (e) in subsection (1) of section 15. It makes the necessary link between the new statutory function of making and adopting a homelessness action plan and the consideration of that plan by the housing authority in making a housing services plan. It will help to integrate the issue of homelessness and the measures to address it into the overall strategic planning effort for the delivery of housing services.
Amendments Nos. 173 to 178, inclusive, amend section 23 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, which sets out the functions of the Housing Acts to be performed by different classes of local authorities. In accordance with Chapter 6 of the Bill, it is proposed that county and city councils only will have responsibility for the preparation and adoption of homelessness action plans. The remaining authorities, such as borough councils, former UDCs, former town commissioners, and the towns of Bray, Athlone and Dundalk will not have responsibility in this area. Finally, amendment No. 185 amends the Long Title to the Bill to take account of the proposed statutory provision for the making of homelessness action plans.
Homelessness has been a priority of mine since becoming Minister of State with responsibility for housing, and the Department is doing its utmost to provide clear guidance and direction to local authorities and other bodies to address the issue. I have recently published a detailed national implementation plan for the homeless strategy, which will guide the action required at national level to promote and support the implementation of the objectives of the strategy locally. We also hope to finalise the details of new arrangements for moving persons out of long-term emergency accommodation into mainstream accommodation with supports to assist them in maintaining their tenancies.
Our ability to achieve our aims in this area is crucially dependent on local authorities, other statutory agencies and NGOs. Therefore, it is important that a purposeful and efficient structure is in place to translate national objectives into actions which can make a difference to the lives of individuals. The arrangements I am providing for in these amendments will play a key role in achieving these aims. I thank the Opposition for its amendments in this area, but I ask members opposite to withdraw them in favour of the substantive change that I am bringing forward which has been strongly endorsed by the MakeRoom Alliance, together with important associated amendments. I am happy to discuss in detail as many of the proposals as the members wish.