While my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, has primary responsibility for reducing and ultimately eliminating homelessness, I am committed to helping children and families experiencing homelessness as part of a whole-of-Government response to this problem.
As the Deputy will be aware, children and families experiencing homelessness are supported by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
In this regard, Tusla supports homeless families experiencing problems with school attendance, through the School Completion Programme. Children whose families are homeless are prioritised for services such as homework clubs and breakfast clubs.
Tusla and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) have agreed a joint protocol to facilitate an inter-agency response to the many challenges posed by homelessness. As part of the protocol, Tusla provides support to the DHRE’s ‘one-stop-shop’ assessment centres. Here Tusla staff deal with matters of child protection and welfare, educational welfare and Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) services. Tusla’s Homelessness Liaison Officer supports these centres.
Family Resource Centres, funded by Tusla, provide facilities where homeless children and families can avail of a safe, warm environment for homework, relaxation and nutritious food. Tusla is engaging with the Centres to offer further, enhanced services across the greater Dublin area in 2019.
My Department funds free childcare for children and families experiencing homelessness, under the Community Childcare Subvention Resettlement (Transitional) Programme. This includes a daily meal for each child. 312 children have been registered under this scheme in the current programme year (August 2018 – August 2019).
Finally, acting on evidence that a minority of young people leaving the care of the State can have particularly complex needs, I have succeeded in having care-leavers included for the first time as a separate category for funding under the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS). This provides targeted assistance to the most vulnerable care leavers by enabling Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) to acquire residential units to accommodate them. Where accommodation is provided under CAS, Tusla will provide and, where necessary advocate for, additional independent living supports, in particular for the most vulnerable care leavers, in accordance with the individual’s pre-agreed aftercare plan.
I am pleased to be able to confirm that as of 24 May 2019, 24 care-leavers have availed of places with different Approved Housing Bodies, including 15 with Focus Ireland, six with the Peter McVerry Trust, and three with Don Bosco. Additional placements have been secured and are expected to come on stream within the coming months. These should be available for other young people leaving care in the near future. The security provided by a tenancy in CAS accommodation, combined with the aftercare supports identified by Tusla as part of the aftercare planning process, can help ensure that these young people have a safe base from which to begin their transition to independent adult life.
Our response to homelessness overall is a test of our compassion as a society. We need to eliminate child and family homelessness. While we work towards this we must provide the assistance necessary to help these children and families live in a way that goes some way to addressing the challenges of the situation.