Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (36, 73)

Jan O'Sullivan


36. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of families accommodated in hotels due to homelessness; the number of families in such accommodation for longer than three months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9649/18]

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Dessie Ellis


73. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of homeless families accommodated in hotels; the number of families to date in 2018 that have been taken out of such accommodation; the target date by which all families will be removed from such accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9702/18]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Housing)

One the most important targets in Rebuilding Ireland was to take families out of hotels except in very extreme circumstances by July 2016 but unfortunately it was not reached. Today's homeless figures indicate that the number of children in homeless services has increased from 3,079 to 3,267. Obviously, they are not all in hotels; I am sure many of them are in family hubs. How many homeless families are in hotels and how many have been there for more than three months?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 73 together.

My Department publishes monthly reports on homelessness and the report in respect of January was published today and is available on the Department's website. These reports are based on data provided by housing authorities and produced through the pathway accommodation and support system, PASS.

The reports capture details of individuals utilising State-funded emergency homeless accommodation arrangements that are overseen by housing authorities.

The report for January shows that a total of 1,517 families were using emergency accommodation during the survey period. Of these, 700 homeless families were recorded as staying in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation in the Dublin region. Some 45% of these families had been resident in such accommodation for less than six months. The Government is committed to addressing the use of hotels for emergency accommodation and we are working closely with the local authorities to secure the necessary alternative accommodation. The delivery of family hubs has been an important response and there are now almost 500 units of family accommodation in these hubs. These facilities offer a greater level of stability than is possible in hotels, with the capacity to provide appropriate play-space, cooking and laundry facilities. In January, I held a second housing summit with the local authority chief executives at which I asked them to develop proposals for the development of more family hubs and, as far as possible, to locate these hubs close to the communities where families are experiencing homelessness. My Department will fund and work with local authorities on the delivery of the hubs.

Significant progress is being made on exiting people from homelessness. Last month, in Dublin alone, 92 families exited emergency accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation and 70 families were prevented from having to enter homeless accommodation. During 2017, a total of 1,263 families in the Dublin region were moved on from hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation arrangements into either independent tenancies or more appropriate hub accommodation. Last year, over 4,000 exits from homelessness were achieved nationally, into sustainable tenancies in local authority and approved housing body housing and housing assistance payment, HAP, supported accommodation. Every effort will continue to be made to achieve the maximum number of exits from homelessness this year, assisted by the recent extension to all local authorities of the homeless HAP placefinders service, which has been a key response in Dublin and in Cork since its introduction there last year.

Since I tabled this question, there was an alarming press release this morning from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to say that babies in hotels are not reaching their developmental goals which is really worrying. We were aware of the difficulties with young children not being able to run around, bring friends in and so on but this is really alarming. If a child does not reach developmental goals at a very early age, that has a real effect on the rest of that child's life. The Minister gave me figures for 700 families in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation in the Dublin region. He gave me a figure for less than six months. That still leaves families in such accommodation for more than six months. My question was specifically about cases of more than three months. Will the Minister give me the information I asked for, which was about those resident in hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation for more than three months? The Minister gave me figures for the Dublin region but I did not hear any for the rest of the country. It is important that we get these figures. One of the most important goals in Rebuilding Ireland was to get families out of hotels for anything more than a short period of time in urgent situations. It is important to reach this target. Real children are involved who only have one life to live.

Babies in hotels not reaching developmental goals was one of the first things brought to my attention upon being appointed to this office, to make sure that we could find a policy solution that would ensure adequate play spaces, cooking facilities and wraparound supports that families need were in place when they experience this crisis in their lives. That is what the family hub, initiated by my predecessor, Deputy Simon Coveney, is. Over the course of the second half of last year, we rapidly increased the number of available family hub places to help families into hub spaces or as families present for emergency accommodation, to put them directly into hub spaces in the family hubs that we have. At the second housing summit in January, I asked local authority chief executives to develop, with my Department, a rapid hub delivery programme because we need far more hubs than are currently in the pipeline. We have 500 family hub spaces at the moment. We hope to see the rapid family hub programme bring in at least an additional 400 spaces in a short period over the coming months.

On the statistics the Deputy was asking about, in so far as the 700 families in hotels in Dublin at the end of January are concerned, I said that 45% were there for six months or less. Some 22% have been there for more than six months but less than a year. Some 15% have been there for between 12 and 18 months and 6% of families currently in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation have been there for more than 24 months. That 6% represents 29 families. On the point of the length of stay that some families are experiencing in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, we have to be very sensitive to individual families' needs. Some families need a tailored approach depending on the size of the family. There are not necessarily hub spaces currently available for larger families. Some other families will have very particular needs. As we work with our partner organisations to get families into more appropriate accommodation, we are sensitive to those needs and sometimes it takes longer to support those families to get appropriate accommodation.

I accept that family hubs are better than hotels but we absolutely need targets for how long one can stay in a hotel or family hub. Every month is important for a child's development where individual children are concerned. We need targets and to achieve those targets.

The vast majority of families who have been placed in family hubs spend less than six months in that family hub accommodation. We get in there as quickly as possible with our care supports to get them either into social housing or one of the social housing supports that we have. This is why we have expanded the placefinder service which is there to help families to source accommodation, whether they are in emergency accommodation or before going into emergency accommodation. With the placefinder service, they can give their first month's rent and the deposit. If the homeless housing assistance payment is being used, there can be extra discretion with regard to rent. We are seeing results from that. We note, as I put in the statement that I issued earlier, that the extent of the increase in families in emergency accommodation that we saw in January was not anticipated and I have asked the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to investigate the reasons for this, come back to me with a report and, following from that, to see what further responses might be necessary.

The Minister still has not given us a target date for when we will get people out of hotels. This has been going on. The Minister has mentioned many times that he will have everyone out of hotels in a certain period. That period is well past. If one takes the peak period, which was March last year, there were 815 families in hotel accommodation. There were 758 families in November. The Minister is now saying that there are currently 700 families in Dublin alone. That is an increase in the homeless figures that the Minister just announced of 329 adults and 188 children. It is absolutely scandalous that we are not making a dent. The much-vaunted fast-build housing that the Minister spoke of being able to move people into has only been delivered in Finglas, Ballymun and Drimnagh. We are far behind with that. It is now three years since we mentioned this. We were going to have nearly 500 families housed and we are nowhere near that target. That is another failed target. We heard on the radio today about the effects this is having on children who are living in hostels, bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels. Many of these are being lumbered around the city, far from their families, friends and where they are being educated. It is scandalous. The long-term effects of this on the children going through it will be massive.

It is important to note the huge amount of work that has gone on in 2017 between my Department, local authorities, the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and the NGO sector. As I stated in my previous reply, more than 1,200 families exited hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation in 2017. Of course it is still a huge challenge for Government and society, with 700 families still in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. That is why we have initiated the rapid hub development programme for the coming months, for 400 additional family hub spaces, and that is why we continue to roll out the HAP placefinder service and the use of homeless HAP to help accommodate the other families who are still in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. On the increase in our figures of people experiencing homelessness in January, the increase of individual adults was anticipated to a degree because we brought more permanent and emergency beds into the system. That brought rough sleepers off our streets and into services. They are then counted as being in emergency accommodation and, importantly, are getting all the care and support they need to help to get them into secure housing. We have now appointed a national director for Housing First and we hope to see great progress with that model over the coming year.

Are we making a dent? We are making progress. When one looks at the rate of increase over the previous years, we are making progress and it is beginning to stabilise with regard to families. If we continue to do the good work that was done in 2017, then we will see quite significant progress over the year. When I talk about the progress in 2017, when one looks at the target that we had for increasing our stock of social housing and general social housing supports, we exceeded all but one of our targets. We were only 8% off the one that we did not achieve. Some 2,200 social housing homes were built in 2017, an increase by a factor of three on 2016 and only 200 homes short of our target.

In spite of measures such as the rent supplement and rental accommodation schemes, the system is still haemorrhaging people into homelessness. I have been dealing with such persons all week in my constituency, as have most Deputies in their constituencies. Although the Minister has stated we are making progress, the figures for homelessness remain high, which is very hard to believe in view of the stated amount of resources that have been put invested. Serious weather warnings are in place and there is a possibility that families, children and individuals may be left to sleep outdoors. We need to warn such people. I hope the Government has put out a very serious warning to get them into safe places and make available the maximum possible amount of accommodation, wherever it may be found. That is necessary because, if the weather forecast is correct, this is urgent and more lives could be lost. A huge number of homeless persons have died on the streets in recent years and months, which is a tragedy for the country.

Will the Minister confirm that there are now more families living in hotel accommodation than when he took office? I understand there were over 800 at the start of last year but that figure dropped to approximately 640 before the Minister took office. He has stated there are now over 700 such families. Will he commit to providing figures for the total length of time families spend in emergency accommodation? That information is necessary because families move from hotels into hubs and other forms of accommodation and, as happens in Scotland and Northern Ireland, we should have a figure on a quarterly or monthly basis for the average total length of time a family spends in emergency accommodation and for it to then be broken down into time spent in hotels, hubs or other forms of accommodation.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. To respond to the questions asked by Deputy Dessie Ellis, people are still presenting to the homeless services. We are putting a huge amount of work into prevention and there will be a big focus in the coming year on trying to use supports such as the homeless housing assistance payment to prevent people from having to enter emergency accommodation. When they enter emergency accommodation, the NGO sector and the Dublin regional homeless executive, DRHE, do everything they can to get them into secure and sustainable accommodation through measures such as the housing assistance payment scheme.

The number of homeless persons will come down as Rebuilding Ireland makes progress. We made more progress in 2017 than had been envisaged in the plan; therefore, Rebuilding Ireland is working in meeting our build and social housing support targets and doing so more quickly than we had anticipated. We can expect to see progress during 2018, but we must be vigilant and keep on working.

If Deputy Eoin Ó Broin is correct on the number of families living in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation when I took office, there has been an increase as the figure of 700 which I quoted is correct. However, as outlined in the statement I released earlier and as I have stated today in the House, we did not anticipate the increase in the number of families who would seek assistance. I have discussed this issue with the Dublin regional homelessness executive and asked it to investigate the problem. It will very shortly come back to me with a report, on the basis of which we may have to make additional policy interventions to ensure we are doing everything in our power as policy makers to help people who are experiencing this crisis in their lives.

Deputy Dessie Ellis referred to the expected severe weather event. Because of better modelling by Met Éireann, we were able to anticipate its occurrence and put out additional outreach teams over the course of the weekend. In co-operation with the Peter McVerry Trust, we have opened a temporary facility to ensure no one will have to sleep out in the coming nights and days. The public has responded very well to our request that anyone who sees a person sleeping rough use homelessdublin.ie to notify us of the homeless person's location in order that we can quickly get a team out to him or her.