Simon Communities of Ireland

I draw attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2008, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee.

However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or an entity, by name or in such a say as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I am pleased to welcome the representatives of the Simon Communities of Ireland, Ms Niamh Randall, Mr. Bill Griffin, Mr. Dermot Kavanagh and Mr. Sam McGuinness. As I said, we have received its submission which has been circulated to members and will be published on the committee's website afterwards. I invite Ms Randall to make an opening statement or give a summary of the submission after which there will be questions from members.

Ms Niamh Randall

I thank the Chairman and committee members for the invitation to appear before them. We appreciate being invited and have watched the sessions with great interest. We are aware that the committee has a lot of information, given the number of people who have appeared before it to date. What we will try to do is to focus on the solutions we think are necessary for the people using Simon's services all around the country. We are not trying to repeat any testimony the committee has heard. Our submission is detailed and if there are questions on it, we will be happy to take them.

To explain a little about the Simon Communities of Ireland, it is a national network working all around the country, providing local responses to local needs and issues. It is based in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, the midlands, the mid-west, the north west and the south east. It has a very special commitment to working with those who face the most barriers and those who have the most complex support needs. We see the impact of the housing and homelessness crisis in every region and community. It is not only felt in urban areas; it is also felt in rural areas.

We welcome the appointment of a Minister with responsibility for housing, planning and local government. It is critical that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, have the full authority and responsibility to address this crisis. That means having full Cabinet support. It also means having cross-departmental support from the key Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Social Protection and Health, as well as the HSE. It means having cross-party support, which is where the committee comes in. We welcome the collaborative approach being taken by all members in working on this issue together.

When thinking about appearing before the committee, I thought about Jim, a man I had met in one of the temporary accommodation services opened in December 2014. He has serious physical and mental health issues. He sleeps at night in a dorm with about 20 other people and by day walks the streets. The staff in the service are brilliant and do their best to care-plan and case-manage, but it is so difficult in such an environment. We seldom hear about people like Jim, whom the State has failed time and again. Of those trapped in emergency accommodation, 2,700 are single people with no dependants.

It is critical that we learn from past mistakes and change expectations. The expectation has to be that people can and will move from homelessness very quickly into a home of their own. Some may need support at some point, but we all do at some stage in our lives. That must be the expectation of people who are homeless and of staff, volunteers and the Government, as stated in the commitments in the homelessness policy statement in 2013. We need to agree that every man, woman and child in the State has a right to a safe, secure and affordable home and that we need to provide it.

We have included much detail in our submission on housing supply across all tenures. I will not go into the details, but I draw the attention of the committee to a call we are making today, that is, that for a limited period 100% of all social housing allocations be made to people who are long-term homeless. We make this call as the numbers in emergency accommodation peaked at more than 6,000 this week, the highest number ever reported. This would apply to all local authority areas where long-term homelessness is an issue and last until the issue was resolved and apply to those who are stuck in homeless services for more than six months, the Government's definition of long-term homelessness. We are talking about people who were in homeless services prior to December 2015.

I will hand over to my colleagues who have a couple of short inputs to make. Mr. Griffin will speak about the right to housing, Mr. Kavanagh on rough sleeping and long-term homelessness and Mr. McGuinness about prevention and families who are homeless.

Mr. Bill Griffin

It is not surprising that everyone's obsession these days is in dealing with the emergency and getting people off the streets and shelter over their heads. While all that is happening, we are moving away from any consideration of the right to housing for all citizens.

If measures are not underpinned with rights, we are always a supplicant at the table of resources. If people are at the back of the queue, as are those with whom we deal, their chance of realising a home is limited.

Ireland has obligations under five international covenants in which housing is specifically stated. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family. The right to housing is not just about having a roof over one's head. The definition of that right includes that there should be security of tenure, availability of services, materials and infrastructure and that it should be affordable and habitable. These four or five issues are some of the difficulties we, both legislators and providers, must deal with on a day-to-day basis.

The result of the absence of a rights-based report that provides for people to follow up on their right to a home is what is happening currently throughout the country. Tenants are being given notice to quit because banks are forcing landlords to realise their assets to pay loans or because they are unable to keep up with increasing rents. There is no consideration for tenants. This is all being done legally, with tenants getting notice to quit, etc., but the reality is they end up homeless or end up in a hotel for months on end. The schemes that were set up to give protection are falling apart. Significant numbers of landlords are leaving the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, which was designed to give security of tenure to both tenant and landlord. Why are they leaving the scheme? Speaking as the man in Galway did, it is because they can get better and higher rents in the open market and the standards associated with the RAS are not applicable. When the three years are up, these landlords are moving away from the scheme and the councils cannot get them to re-engage. Even with Galway councils paying a little extra, that still does not bridge the gap between what tenants are allowed to pay and rent in the current market.

The freezing of rent supplement in 2013, despite resistance from all sides, was done on the basis that if rent supplement was allowed to keep pace with market rent, it would fuel rent rises. This has happened in any event. Rent increases have happened all over the country, without any contribution to that rise from people dependent on social welfare.

In the current discussion, we are constantly informed that the issue is all about housing. If, however, we are to help people remain in their houses, they also need support services related to health and social needs. Over the past four years, some 20% of the social inclusion budget of the HSE - the smallest care group within the HSE - has disappeared. There is no discussion going on in regard to reversing that, as I was told yesterday at a meeting with our local HSE. While unions are trying to get wage cuts reversed for staff whose wages were cut over these past years, there is no discussion about the people these workers serve. The fact that people cannot access the supports they need to prevent them from losing their homes is leading to even more problems. Because they have no rights, people are ending up in overcrowded emergency hostels. We appreciate the need for an emergency response, but a dormitory response is not a solution, it is merely an emergency response.

It is sad that decisions about allocations are increasingly discussed in terms of who is deserving of accommodation. We hear every day that what has happened, as I am sure the committee has heard in all of the submissions made to it, is that the influx of families into this sector in recent years has meant that these families are now seen, formally and informally, as the priority. The people we are dealing with are individuals - 2,700 individuals without families who are in emergency situations. They are now being trapped in that situation. I urge the committee to please remember that families are not the only issue. Certainly, we do not want children growing up in hotel rooms, but do not just deal with that issue or feel that dealing with the issue of families in hotel rooms is dealing with the problem.

As housing supply dwindles, the prioritisation of smaller and smaller groups is occurring, along with discussion about who deserves the housing available. What we suggest to this committee is that while it is dealing with the emergency and considering other solutions, it should not abandon consideration of the right to housing for all of our citizens. A week or so ago, legislation was pushed through in regard to hard-pressed mortgage holders. That is all very good for those who can afford a mortgage, but what about hard-pressed people who will never be able to afford a mortgage?

Mr. Dermot Kavanagh

I will talk a little about rough sleeping and long-term homelessness and the link between them.

Emergency accommodation is not a solution to homelessness. As Mr. Griffin pointed out, the response to the crisis of rough sleeping has involved the provision of a lot of extra shelter beds, often dormitory beds. As a strategy, this does not address homelessness. In the long run, it leads to institutionalisation and dependency and, over time, the solution itself becomes the problem. In terms of a solution that works, I am sure the committee has heard a lot about the concept of Housing First. This means housing people without preconditions or expectations of them being "housing-ready". People are put into housing and support is provided, including clinical and housing support as well as support towards community reintegration.

On the problem of long-term homelessness, it is interesting to look at recent analysis of shelter usage in both Cork and Dublin. Dr. Bernie O'Donoghue Hynes of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive presented a paper some months back entitled Patterns of Homeless Emergency Accommodation Use in Dublin. Her findings, which were consistent with international findings from the United States, Denmark, Canada and other places, suggest that the vast majority of emergency shelter bed nights are accounted for by people who are either long-term or episodically homeless. According to these analyses, homeless people can be divided into three groups: those who are homeless in the short term and have few episodes of homelessness; those who are homeless repeatedly and have a number of episodes of homelessness; and those who are long-term homeless and are in the shelter system long term. Dr. O'Donoghue Hynes found that between 2012 and 2014, 7,254 people used emergency accommodation in Dublin, of whom 13% or 924 people were long-stay shelter residents. They accounted for 52% of the emergency bed nights during the period. When Cork Simon looked at the data for our emergency shelter, we made remarkably similar findings. The proportion of people in 2015 who met the Government's definition of long-term homeless was 12%, and that group accounted for 51% of the shelter bed nights last year.

These statistics clearly suggest that a strong focus on housing people who are long-term homeless will have the greatest effect on freeing up emergency bed nights, thereby eliminating rough sleeping. The Cork Simon emergency shelter has 44 beds. On average, we have 50 people in per night and, on any given night, 25 of those meet the Government's definition of long-term homeless. Over the course of last year, 48 people in total met that definition. There are roughly 18,000 bed nights a year in the Cork Simon shelter. If we were to house those 48 people and provide support in housing them, we would free up 9,000 bed nights - an average of 25 beds per night. We have nine people sleeping rough in the city. We could go back to our official number of 44 in the shelter and have some spare room. What holds true for Cork on the micro-level holds true for Dublin as well. While getting the housing supply is crucial, targeting it at those who are long-term homeless is equally crucial. It provides the greatest impact in addressing the crisis of long-term homelessness and also the rough sleeping crisis itself. That is a core point for the committee.

Those who are long-term homeless tend, on average, to have more complex issues than those who are homeless in the short term. Very often we will be dealing with challenging issues relating to health, mental health, addiction and so on. There is a long list of well-documented international studies showing that the best way to address the housing needs and overall health needs of people with those issues is to provide housing first, and then to provide support in respect of those issues in the housing. We have been running a programme like that in Cork Simon, as have some of the other Simon communities around the country. They are very successful. We housed 34 people in 2013 and have tracked them each year.

By the end of 2015, 85% remained housed. This shows that this intervention can deal effectively with long-term homelessness and rough sleeping.

There is a challenge here in that there is a great deal of talk about homelessness funding, which is crucial, but much of the focus is on funding from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. If we had the supply of houses tomorrow and took measures to ensure it was prioritised in respect of those who, as Ms Randall said, are long-term homeless - with 100% of allocations - and moved people into homes, we would need more than just housing support. We would also need clinical support and support in respect of mental health and addiction issues. There have been major cutbacks in those areas in previous years. The HSE will have to put the funding in place to ensure that this strategy will work. It could certainly have a huge impact.

Mr. Sam McGuinness

In the summary of our submission, there is a section on prevention and homeless families. I am going to outline the major areas of homelessness prevention and make some comments on them.

The first issue I wish to highlight is the requirement for a comprehensive plan for the private rented sector. I believe the committee has encountered this issue in the context of a number of other submissions. The next point is the extension of section 10 funding for further prevention work and pushing it out nationally. Another matter is ensuring a statutory obligation for the provision of advice and information and pushing that out. Much work has been done in some of the Dublin areas on that. I wish to comment in a moment on ensuring that national and regional homeless strategies are put in place. Another requirement is to increase the availability of rapid-build housing. I am sure we all have many comments to make on that. The final issue relates to immediate investment in Housing First solutions.

It is very clear that unless we can secure people in their homes, more than 70 families and many other single people will become homeless. There is a great deal of detail in our submission - as well as those of other groups - about how to prevent that. Ensuring that national and regional homeless strategies are in place is of major importance. Unfortunately, one could say that I have been around this sector for too long because we should have solved the problem by now. In February 2013, a housing policy statement was produced. Then there was the Construction 2020 document in May 2014. We had the Social Housing Strategy 2020 in November 2014. We then had an implementation plan on the State's response to homelessness, also in May 2014. There was the 20-point action plan to address homelessness. Now we have the programme for partnership and the establishment of this committee. Something different has to happen. Too many documents have been written and there has clearly not been enough action. Whatever comes out of this committee, I believe it is a wonderful, disparate group of people that can make a difference. Another important aspect of the process is that in pushing it up to the level of having the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Taoiseach on board, something different has to happen. It a slight on all of us that 6,000 people are homeless and that the figure is increasing.

The other major initiative I wish to comment on is rapid housing. I was informed that what was originally proposed in this regard would happen in time for Christmas. We were told that 22 buildings would be ready and people could move into them. When we met the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Coveney, earlier this month, people had only just begun to move into those homes. That is a long time to wait. They say a lot happens between cup and lip, but that is an extraordinarily long time.

The other day I was just across the road from the Digital Hub. I cannot remember the name of the builder, but Digital Hub gave the tender and they began building 500 student apartments. They started in July 2014 and the apartments will be ready this September. That is not necessarily extraordinary and obviously a commercial builder can do that. The site was ready and the planning permission was there. We need more of that. We need things that can happen. The 500 people involved did not necessarily have to be students. They could have been homeless people. That would have been amazing in terms of what we could do. By the way, there are many other sites around that area. Something could be done to restructure the availability of such sites in order to address the problems that we are experiencing.

The last thing I will say is about the infrastructural deficit. Dublin Simon alone has provided more accommodation in the past three years than it did the previous 30. There was a need and we could see it. We have provided homes for more than 350 people. We used €6 million of our own money, which we received from legacies, donations, etc., and we received €8 million under the capital assistance scheme, CAS. That was a huge effort. Without it, I believe that we would be totally distraught in trying to assist all the people we are helping.

We need more effort like that. AHBs, such as our one, need financing. We have just received approval from the Housing Finance Agency but we also need cars and other facilities because, although AHBs are motoring, they have not got to total capacity yet.

Members will know from the testimonies of all the witnesses who have appeared before them that we need to drive local authorities to provide homes in the way they have been known to provide them in the past. Without that being done, I cannot see how these poor people, of whom there will be 10,000 by next Christmas, will survive. We need somehow to engage the private sector, whether it is by engaging its greed, its margins or something else. Unless it makes money, it will not engage with us.

We will take a couple of questions and will then revert to whoever wants to take them.

I am interested in the comments on single-person households and I agree that the scale of the family homelessness crisis and the increase in the number of children involved has taken the media focus away from single-person households. My real concern is that none of the 50% priority allocations made by the Dublin local authorities went to single people because local authorities do not, by and large, have single person units. In South Dublin County Council, for example, the number of single-unit allocations made in a given year might be one or two and that is from all the lists and not just from the priority list. Ms Randall made a proposal for 100% allocations but the majority of those will be two-bedroom, three-bedroom or four-bedroom units and they will still not work for the majority of long-term single homeless households about which we have been talking. How do we deal with that?

Some local authorities are applying HAP and for new entrants, or people coming from emergency accommodation into rental, HAP has a higher level of supplement than rent supplement. I am not a fan of HAP and would like to see that scheme changed because the HAP levels for single-person households are as bad as the old rent supplement levels. Can the witnesses comment on that? Have they had experience of people encountering difficulties in accessing HAP accommodation as single persons because of its lower limits?

I welcome the representatives of Simon. I met Ms Randall two weeks ago, before we knew if she would be appearing before us. I was very taken with her and with the work Simon does. I was very taken with the idea of the right to housing which struck me that day. The emphasis was on getting people into houses first and then providing follow-on supports. We met the Peter McVerry Trust this morning and it said that 80% of the people with whom it dealt had drug problems and 60% had mental health problems. I am sure the statistics are similar for Simon.

We are meant to have our phones turned off but I am getting texts from my office in Waterford where a girl has presented as homeless in the past hour. She has found a house in Portlaw, which is where I live, but the problem is the deposit. The forms will take another four weeks to process and she will lose the house and be homeless tonight. It is unbelievable that we are sitting here discussing this and a story like that comes through on my phone. My PA is not there and the secretary is not so familiar with the situation as she is only new. It is horrendous that the house is there, the rent is sorted and she can afford it but she cannot afford the deposit, so she will lose the house. This is something we come up against all the time and this committee will have to look at the question of deposits so that people can get into private rented accommodation. It is so difficult to get a house but she will lose it over the paperwork not being completed fast enough.

Mr. Bill Griffin

That is a classic example of what is going on. I have signed the Galway Simon chequebook to pay deposits in advance of the paperwork being done as that was the only solution. My outreach section has come to me with similar stories, that everything was there except the deposit and the paperwork would take time. We have compensated for the slow paperwork on the basis that the person will - fingers crossed - get the deposit. It has worked out in each case but it is a strange way to run a system.

We were told in Galway recently that if a person is applying for rent supplement, regardless of the fact that it will not meet his or her rental needs, the processing of it will take 12 weeks, but if a person is deemed to be homeless it will take only ten weeks. Galway landlords only have to wait about ten minutes to dispose of their property, not ten weeks.

Where exactly is the delay occurring?

Mr. Bill Griffin

Arms of the State are meant to deal with these matters. My personal view is that we are in a crisis. We talk about it being an emergency, a crisis. Normally we do different things in those situations but the arms of the State are progressing on as they have always done. A person who is dependent on rent supplement or housing assistant payments, which are 30% below the asking rent in Galway even with an increase, is not competing on an equal basis with, for example, my son, if he was renting and had the asking rent. Added to that is the delay in processing how much money the person can bring to the table, which means he or she is definitely at the back of the queue. A recent survey in Galway carried out via found that 96% of the rentable properties in Galway were not accessible by people in receipt of social welfare benefits. No social housing has been built in Galway since 2009, in seven years, and, consequently, there is almost total reliance on the private sector to provide social housing.

Regarding the model suggested to house single people, we got together, at our instigation, with other housing agencies, COPE Galway and Cluid Housing, and we applied for funding under the last round of capital assistance scheme, CAS, funding. We were given €2.1 million to buy 16 apartments in Galway, ring-fenced for people in emergency and transitional accommodation. We are still resisting calls from the county council, which is under great pressure, asking, for example, if we could put, say, Mary, into one of those units as she is really in need. We say "No" to such requests as this project was to "unsilt" things, as it were. If, for example, we cannot move people on in a resettlement service provided by the Simon Community Galway, people in emergency services cannot move in there and the same applies to people on the streets. A way around that is to have special projects for which funding is ring-fenced. That is a solution for 16 people but the knock-on effect of it will affect 16 more people. We must remember that mechanisms have always been put in place in terms of what we are doing, but the Government and Departments need to reassure us that they are working efficiently. There cannot be delays without good reason. The fact that it takes ten weeks to process a person's application for rent supplement means that person will lose out.

Mr. Dermot Kavanagh

I wish to respond to Deputy Ó Broin's comments on the 100% allocations. That is absolutely the point. It is not a silver bullet. It would be primarily of use to families who are stuck in homeless accommodation. There are other possible solutions for single people. In Cork, working with Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Threshold, we established Cork Rentals, which was the social rental model, where we stood between the landlord and the tenant. Initially, the purpose was to allow us rent the place at the rent allowance level, pay the landlord the market rent but also remove some of the perceived risk from landlords in terms of working with people who have complex issues, so we would deal with rent arrears, issues regarding tenancy management and so on. That was successful in getting a number of places. We have approximately a dozen currently, which primarily went to long-term homeless people. Between those and the other houses we have we managed to reduce long-term homelessness in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Last year, houses in the private sector dried up even further. There is still some mileage in the social rental model but it will involve, for instance, requiring people to be first in the queue when a place becomes available. They must make a decision quickly. They have to have the deposit with them and be willing to pay it and they have to make a good offer to landlords. There is a good deal of excellent practice on this area from which we can learn, not only in Ireland but further afield. Sometimes one can get ahead by agreeing to pay a bigger up-front payment, and that type of flexibility is essential.

Another point I would make is about the single homeless group. Many of them have dependants who are not with them.

In terms of the pathway back towards integration, one would hope that there would be a route towards access visits and tenants would have, perhaps, two-bedroom accommodation to meet that need.

The vacancy rate is another issue. There are 6,000 empty flats and apartments in Cork and 48,000 in greater Dublin. Those could probably be brought into the system quicker than anything else but the point I would make is that whatever housing becomes available, whether it is through an increased allocation from the city councils, whether it is from other social housing providers, whether it is through being first in the queue with the best offer in the private rented sector or whether it is through new building and developments, one should target it at those homeless longest and that way one will have the maximum impact in freeing up emergency beds and getting the homeless off the streets. That is the Cork view.

Ms Niamh Randall

Mr. Kavanagh made some points about homeless single people. One of the areas is also about encouraging local authorities to think about acquisitions. According to the 2013 figures, 44% of those on the social housing waiting lists were single. Therefore, we need to encourage local authorities to start looking at different types of housing stock as well. The point is that many who are in emergency services, who do not have dependants in their care, have children and a single unit would not be suitable for them anyway.

Deputy Butler made a point about the Housing First model. We cannot speak highly enough of it. The evidence shows it is a successful model. It works well for those who have multiple or complex needs and one can work with the homeless directly from rough sleeping. Once one provides them with an appropriate affordable home and then the supports in that home, it makes a considerable difference.

Mr. Griffin spoke well about the bureaucracy and I will not elaborate, except in terms of the deposit issue. The deposit issue is a massive problem in every part of the country. That is a key element that needs to change.

Mr. Bill Griffin

We all are obsessed and exercised and are using lots of resources to describe what I would call the whole elephant. The simplest way of looking at this problem is to think of one homeless person, such as the young lady referred to earlier, ask what would she needs to be housed tonight. If HAP levels are not at market rent level, she is at a disadvantage and, therefore, one should bring that up. One cannot get pre-approval for HAP or rent supplement so when one goes to a landlord, one must go back to the Department of Social Protection to say one found a property but ten weeks later when one gets approval, the property is gone. One must have the correct levels and one must be able to get pre-approval. These are all emergency crisis measures that can be applied on an individual basis. While we all are considering the elephant, the elephant is made up of individuals and every family we get out of a hotel is another solution. One should apply it like that, by taking a personal approach to the human being. That will lead on to instructions, legislation, telling Departments how this will work and telling providers, such as us, what we are supposed to do. To be honest, it is not so complex.

Ms Niamh Randall

Deputy Ó Broin asked a question about HAP. Would he mind reiterating the specific query?

Obviously, the HAP limits are different outside of Dublin. In Dublin, the HAP family rates are still quite close to the market rent but the single person HAP rates are substantially lower and much closer to the old rent supplement rates. Is that something Simon is experiencing as a problem and has Ms Randall any thoughts on it?

Ms Niamh Randall

In terms of the gap between market rent and limits for both rent supplement and HAP, we conduct a study a couple of times a year called Locked Out of the Market, where we look at market rents and limits for both rent supplement and HAP. Certainly, we found in our last study that 95% of the properties were unavailable to those on these particular limits. There are mechanisms with the tenancy protection service but that is a Band-Aid. If one looks at the range across the country, there is a 55% gap in terms of HAP and rent supplement limits in Cork, 44% in Athlone, 55% in Limerick and 20% in Kildare. These all are large gaps. Unless we look at some mechanism to support people to stay in the homes they have, we will keep seeing increasing numbers of people entering homelessness. It is already at crisis levels, with over 6,000 homeless. We will just see more people becoming homeless.

If the Chairman does not mind me asking-----

-----does that research show a higher gap in rents for single room accommodation than for multiple room accommodation?

Ms Niamh Randall

It does. I can forward to the committee this table which maps it out. The table looks at the single person, the couple and the lone parent plus two children. We singled those out in 11 areas, both urban and rural. The point to make clearly is that in each area, the gap is greater than 15%.

I thank Ms Randall.

Mr. Dermot Kavanagh

On that very point, there is a special homelessness HAP scheme in Dublin where the figure can go 50% above the limit. I understand that was effective in housing well over 200 people last year. The same provision is necessary in Cork and other parts of the country.

If we had better treatments for drug abuse and addiction, would we be able to prevent the 2,700 people seeking accommodation from becoming homeless or take them out of homelessness?

The delegation mentioned in its recommendations that the Government should be much more ambitious regarding the number of social houses it is to build. I welcome the statement that the Government should be aiming to build 50,000 social houses. Obviously, that is the focus of many homelessness agencies.

I wish to query a number of points in the submissions. The delegates called for a site levy, a role for NAMA and an increase in the proportion of Part V units to 20%. With regard to the allocation of 100% of local authority public housing to homeless people, Deputies might ask whether people are now so desperate that they would attempt to become homeless to get a house. We realise people are becoming homeless anyway, as I am aware since I come from an area where there is mass homelessness. I hate to say it like this but some people are in more of a position to do as I imply than others. In this regard consider the capacity of those with four or five children. To be honest, people are now resorting to all sorts of steps to try to get a house. I would like to hear the delegates' comments on how this might be prevented. We all know a hell of a lot of people on the social housing list or transfer list that are in dire straits and in overcrowded circumstances. They are in as bad a position as many other people. I am sure the delegates could testify that the transfer situation is brutal. There are as many bad cases of people who are in houses right now and who need to be accommodated. That is not the fault of the delegates because they are saying there should be more social housing.

With regard to the priority of this committee, it should focus on the provision of social and affordable housing. It was mentioned that mechanisms should be put in place to get the private market moving and building. However, I put it to the delegation that there is no guarantee that any of the private housing will go to homeless people, in particular, and even those in the rental sector who are in dire straits. There is no guarantee that housing will be affordable. I am not saying the delegation is putting emphasis on this but it makes several references to "across all tenures". It is often said by the Government that we just need to increase supply. We do not because there is no guarantee that the housing supplied will be affordable. We saw this during the boom. There was a significant number of properties supplied but nobody could actually buy any of them. One should consider the state we are now in as a result and the negative equity. Only 10% will go to people on the housing list. I raise this for emphasis.

Another point raised was that local authorities should fund approved housing bodies to deliver housing for the homeless.

I am glad Deputy Durkan has gone up to the Chamber.

The Deputy provoked him.

Recently, local authorities have been sidelined by the approved housing bodies because the Government is trying to get everything off balance sheet. The local authority in my area has had to hand over housing left, right and centre to approved housing bodies. It has hardly built anything for five years in Blanchardstown. I believe nothing has been built by the local authority in approximately five years. I have nothing against approved housing bodies but believe their role has been way overemphasised for political, ideological and financial reasons.

I have nothing against approved housing bodies, but their role is being greatly over-emphasised. That is being done for political, ideological and financial reasons. It seems strange. It is not like the local authorities are sitting on pots of money, or are the witnesses saying they are?

The problem with rapid-build housing is that it is not rapid. The witnesses said it themselves. They have to wait for them for a long period of time. If it was rapid, I would probably be a bit better disposed to it, but I do not believe it is that much more rapid than the provision of more permanent housing.

There is not a great deal of information in the submission on the cost rental model Simon Communities of Ireland says should be piloted. Reference is made to Cork. I raised this earlier with a previous witness from Social Justice Ireland. What I have read about the model sets the alarm bells ringing. What is being put forward now is that we should scrap the differential rent scheme in local authority housing, which is usually between 10% to 15% of people's incomes, in order to raise this money. If a special purpose vehicle is set up, the money has to come back in. There was a discussion earlier around getting rid of the differential rent scheme basically to make the rents pay more. We could get more rents in if the threshold was raised for social housing. A lot of people would like to go on the housing list who might not have seen themselves on it before and one would then have more people working with the result that there would be an increase in overall rental income. What I have seen of these cost rental models is that they involve approximately 70% of the market rent. Even 70% of market rent is far too high because what people are paying now in terms of their income and the impact on their families and their lives is outrageous. I do not like the idea that the money has to come from the people who get the houses. There should be ways of taxing wealth to bring in extra revenue to build social housing. I am not saying Simon Communities of Ireland is advocating that as the only way, but the witnesses might elaborate in that regard.

We have one further contribution from a member and then it will be back to the witnesses.

I am not caught up on the approved housing body versus the local authority issue. I am more interested in who is going to provide the quality housing that is needed. Simon Communities of Ireland said that it was providing more accommodation now. Do I take it that it has the capacity to provide even more? What are the steps for it to do that?

I also have concerns about the possibility of 100% allocations to homeless lists because I am looking at other people who have been on the housing list for a very long time. They also have a great need of housing. What we are seeing at times is people from the homeless lists being offered accommodation and, for various reasons, either not taking it or not being considered acceptable in the particular complex for various reasons. It is causing delays in the places being allocated. We are still seeing flats and whatever being left vacant for an inordinately long term because of that. If something is available and somebody from the homeless list is not prepared to take it, there should be one more look at the homeless list but then it should go to the other list. We cannot leave places vacant for as long as is happening. I have concerns around that.

This is a difficult issue. The communities I represent are very close-knit, they all know one another and it is very hard to listen to somebody telling me that such a person is on the homeless list, but is not really homeless and is nevertheless getting ahead. It is the fairness aspect that is very important.

I saw the rapid-build housing on the site in East Wall. I would go into one in the morning if that was my choice. However, the question of divergence arises. I do not think any of them costs more than €90,000 to build. The cost increased from €30,000 to €70,000 generally. Now, we are looking at what they are costing when all the other costs are factored in. Can the witnesses comment on that?

There is a range of different issues raised for the witnesses to address. They need not each answer each one, but collectively they can decide how they are going to approach them.

Ms Niamh Randall

I will take a stab at some of the bits and pieces.

To come back to Deputy Coppinger's questions, first and foremost, on the allocations piece, we were suggesting this would refer to people who have been homeless for six months or more, which is those who were homeless prior to December 2015. That would be in place to prevent the possibility that people might make themselves homeless as a result. It would be a point-in-time thing only. We are aware there are people all around the country who are living in awful conditions, where they have to share overcrowded accommodation and so on. We are prioritising need by focusing on whole families that are trapped in hotel rooms and grown adults sharing dormitory-style accommodation. While this is very much a point-in-time thing, it has to be part of a number of measures to stem the flow of people becoming homeless, such as measures around rent certainty, increases in rent supplement and HAP, and around increasing security of tenure for those in the private rented sector. We need to stop the flow of people becoming homeless. If we can do that, and if we can look at mechanisms to deal with those people who are currently stuck in emergency accommodation - and do that quickly - we can limit the impact and the damage. We know the impact on people's health and well-being in terms of the trauma and stress they suffer. The longer people are stuck in situations such as that, the more support they will need to live independently in the longer term.

The Deputy raised the issue of the social housing strategy. We believe there should be much more ambitious targets in respect of local authorities building and delivering social housing. We have concerns about the over-reliance on the private sector to deliver in this regard. The proposal that 75,000 units would come from the private rented sector is not sustainable in any way, particularly in light of the current position of that sector. Therefore, we would absolutely encourage local authorities to build and deliver housing, and we see their role as being the primary one. The approved housing bodies do have a role, however, particularly with regard to partnerships between local authorities and approved housing bodies in some situations. Mr. Dermot Kavanagh may speak about the situation pertaining to the local authorities and housing in the south east, which might provide an example of what we are talking about in this regard.

With regard to the treatment piece, we know drug and alcohol use can be a cause of people becoming homeless. It is obviously important for people to have access to treatment, rehabilitation, support and aftercare, and important they have accommodation to go to after they have entered treatment. The Housing First model is clearly predicated on having no conditionality. The important thing is that it is not "treatment first" because it is very much the case that once people are in a more secure and settled home, the impact on their drug and alcohol use is quite significant. We know the highest levels of drug use and risk behaviour are seen among people who are rough sleeping, staying in squats or staying in emergency accommodation. Once people are in a more stable housing environment, this often gives them the opportunity to reflect on their drug or alcohol use. If that support is being provided, people can be referred on to treatment services. We need a greater interface and connectivity between the national drugs strategy, the mental health strategy, the mental health services and the physical health services to ensure we are providing what people need.

With regard to capacity at a community level, I will ask my colleagues to come back to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on that. I also saw the rapid-build units and I was very impressed by them. I am not sure what happened in regard to the delays or in regard to the costs becoming greater and greater. I know they had been much more reasonably priced, so I am not sure what happened.

The cost-rental model is a commitment in the social housing strategy. The Department of housing, planning and local government has developed the cost-rental model and our argument is that we need to get it out there to see if it will work. The big thing is making it more affordable, not only for people in receipt of social protection payments but also for those on low incomes.

Mr. Bill Griffin

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan commented on allocations. I mentioned the project we had in Galway, where it is written into the service level agreement that if, after a period of three months, no nomination comes from someone who is classed as homeless, the allocation goes to someone off the general housing list. That can be built in. Ultimately, the local authorities have the say on who gets those places, as opposed to State service providers such as ourselves. There is no need for it to be exclusive. To again use a local example, last year Galway City Council spent €222,000 on putting people in hotels whereas it started the year by setting aside a budget of €9,000 for this. By definition, those people are the council's priority. That is just a local example of how bad it has become.

We are obviously here to represent a certain group of people on the housing list.

Because of what is happening, people who are classed as homeless are now becoming the councils' priorities because they are spending large amounts of money. We talk about development each year. There is also word that the Department may have to hold back on 25% of the funding to cope with the emergency, so some of the more long-term solutions we have talked about here today will probably not get dealt with again or will be at the back of the queue.

Mr. Dermot Kavanagh

May I come in on a few points? First of all, Deputy Harty raised a question about whether there was a link between the quality and extent of mental health and addiction services and the prevalence of homelessness. There is indeed and there is again very strong international evidence that where better services are in place fewer people become homeless. Most significantly, fewer people fall into the category of long-term homeless, so that is why it is essential in helping people to exit homelessness to have the services in place to sustain that.

That links to Deputy O'Sullivan's question in a way. Regarding local authority allocations and the whole issue of who provides housing for homeless people, one of the challenges is that people who are long-term homeless and have complex needs sometimes have a particular history and would fall foul of the scheme of letting priorities. It almost becomes the case that one is sentenced to homelessness for past misdemeanours or troubles in one's personal life. Getting around this and being able to give people a second chance to access housing and a way forward in their lives is crucial. In Waterford, for example, the local authority has allocated houses to South East Simon Community for its Housing First project, which is quite useful and one possible way of doing this.

Regarding who provides housing, whether it is our organisation as an approved housing body or whether it is the local authority or whoever, the bottom line for all of us in Simon is that somebody must provide housing for the people we serve. In Cork city we get practically nothing in allocations from the city council. Much of the reason for this is that we work with many single homeless people and many of the units are three-bedroomed and so on. Sometimes it is hard to house people because they have complex issues, and where nobody else will house them, we will house them. Measures should be taken, however, to ensure that people have access through social rental models, direct public housing or whatever other means. The priority in addressing homelessness is clearly to house homeless people, especially those who have been homeless the longest.

Mr. Sam McGuinness

I will string a few of those questions together. In the greater Dublin area there are between 4,500 and 5,000 people, including children, homeless. The number of children is about 1,800, the number of parents of those children is about 1,200, and the number of single adults is 1,800, or nearly 2,000 if one adds the rough sleeper numbers given by Merchants Quay Ireland. This is a clear priority and therefore something needs to be done.

As Ms Randall and Mr. Kavanagh said, the longer people are homeless, the more issues they will have. The big problem we have in our detox facility on Ushers Island is getting people in there and getting them out to move on. There is shortage of move-on accommodation. The HSE cut our budget four, five, six or seven years ago by 22%. That has not been restored so we are still operating on that and trying to increase the services we offer. Ms Randall reminded me earlier when we were talking about this that the drugs initiative was cut by 37%. When the numbers are increasing all the time, the issues and the complexity will increase too. Nobody is better off in emergency accommodation, whether private emergency accommodation or any other kind of accommodation. This is not good for us.

Returning to the question of what more we would do, we have at present 100 units in the pipeline. We could probably get 125 people into those. We are a specialist housing association which is part of an organisation that delivers services. We are not in the big time; we are not providing thousands of units. Approved housing bodies, AHBs, are capable of providing more accommodation. The issue is that many of them have now been approved by the Housing Finance Agency. Land and then finding places to buy are the issues.

When we started three or four years ago, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit and most of this is now gone. It is very difficult to find one-bed accommodation because it has not been built. We are doing what everybody else does with two-bed accommodation, which is getting people to share. For people to share, they need more supports because they must be made ready for it. The longer people are homeless, the more they forget many of their domestic skills. The support to live independently, SLÍ, process needs to be expanded to all areas because, at present, it is very much with the four local authorities in Dublin.

Ms Niamh Randall

It is important to have specialist housing providers working with people who have high-level needs, but there is also an importance in ring-fencing resources from general housing providers in the longer term for people leaving homelessness who might have high-level needs. In such situations we can have models such as the social rental agency model with a three-way relationship between the tenant, landlord and an organisation providing support.

Dr. Michelle Norris of the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, came before the committee earlier this week and she spoke about the fact that local authorities currently cannot borrow from the HFA. This avenue should be explored with regard to finance for local authorities to ensure they can build more.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance and for their presentation. As somebody who is familiar with the issues in Dublin, it was interesting to hear perspectives from outside the capital.

Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 4.05 p.m.