I am delighted to hear that because it is absent from the national homeless policy. At best, it is referenced or alluded to but in terms of a cascade, following actions and a strategy, it is conspicuous by its absence.
SONAS is a member of the Dublin homeless network. I looked at the network's submission to this committee and asked: "Where is domestic violence in here?" The response was that of course domestic violence is a key contributing cause, which is why they gave us that statement. It is implied and that is the problem when one is discussing domestic violence and homelessness. There is an understanding that it is understood but this is Ireland and if one does not state something explicitly, then there will not be follow-up action to address the issue. If we do not engage with the fact that domestic violence is a key contributing cause of families becoming homeless, then we will not find a solution. This will require an intergovernmental response, as well as recognition and engagement by all stakeholders, particularly the Department dealing with housing, planning and local government.
Domestic violence is a key contributing cause of family homelessness and a dual approach must be taken.
It is not just about housing. This is what differentiates it from mainstream housing policy. We have Housing First. That is great for a particular group of the homeless population and, in fact, for a majority. Even within those families who experience homelessness and domestic violence, it is a solution for many of them but the reality is that families, women and children experiencing domestic violence require a number of safe accommodation options - post-refuge accommodation, step-down accommodation which is for up to six months; safe homes in the community. We provide all of this as part of the quantum of services but we do not have enough. That is something that would differentiate that service provision from general homeless provision. Some general homeless recommendations talk about a family having a centre of interests and trying to house them as close as possible to that centre of interests. That may be diametrically opposed to the safety, welfare and protection of the women and children with whom we work because they can be, literally, just down the road from the perpetrator and his extended family or associates. We need to be mindful and aware that not one size will fit all or not one solution will fit all. If we are serious about providing those client-centred needs-led services and finding real solutions to homelessness we need to take this on board.
In my submission I mentioned that SONAS is a member of the national monitoring committee of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence. The monitoring committee is meeting tomorrow. There is a real opportunity for this committee to put forward recommendations that can inform that national monitoring committee. Action 2.3 reads: develop guidance for local authorities with regard to the policy and procedural aspect of their housing role which will ensure effectiveness and consistency in local authority responses to victims of domestic violence. To be frank with the committee, the guidelines and the opportunity for engagement are welcome but right now we are facing a real crisis. We need to know that we can move this on at a faster pace. We need to know there is real engagement to be had around what are the accommodation supports women and children actually need.
I am conscious that the committee is at the end of a long day and is looking to find solutions. I would like to leave the committee with a couple of simple messages, following which I will ask Dr. Stephanie Holt to speak to the issue.
Our messages are as follows. It will be difficult to find a solution to families becoming homeless without engaging with the reality of domestic violence and the part it plays in families becoming homeless. Families are leaving home because of domestic violence. Again, I would remind the committee of the one in four figure for families becoming newly homeless with domestic violence as a cause.
The homeless crisis will require a number of solutions. There is no one size fits all solution, no matter how attractive that sounds. I feel like being facetious and saying any woman could have told the committee that. Victims of domestic violence need a variety of safe accommodation options and right now, the safety, protection and lives of women, children and young people are at risk. I am not being dramatic by saying that to the committee. Its members can speak to the Garda Síochána, front-line workers and social workers who will confirm this. This risk is real and is being multiplied by these families' experience of homelessness.
Because we knew we were appearing before the committee I would like to read a statement from the Dublin Homeless Network. It states: "The Dublin Homeless Network acknowledges that domestic violence is a significant cause of women, children and young people coming into and remaining in homelessness. National housing and homeless strategic responses should incorporate and recognise domestic violence as a significant issue which requires housing led and other support solutions." I would say that, perhaps, "housing-led" and safe accommodation is not necessarily the same as housing.
Because we only got notification on Friday that we would appear before the committee we had only a day and a half to speak to the other organisations. All the other domestic violence refuge providers in Dublin, Aoibhneas, Saoirse and Rathmines Refuge, are backing this submission. The National Women's Council of Ireland, Ruhama, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Safe Ireland Network which also provided the committee with a submission around domestic violence, and the National Collective of Community-based Women's Networks have all recognised the call within the submission and would support it.
As I said, the national monitoring committee of the national domestic and sexual violence strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence meets tomorrow. Together we have an opportunity to make a real difference to families, women and children and young people experiencing domestic violence and homelessness. The victims of domestic violence and homelessness are, in many cases, exactly the same people. Let us take the opportunity to make a difference and, hopefully, make it better. I will now hand over to my colleague, Dr. Stephanie Holt.