I thank the joint committee for the invitation to discuss the impact of homelessness on children. I am accompanied by my colleague Mr. David Kelly, principal officer with responsibility for the homelessness area in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. In terms of context, it is important to note that the Department is responsible for the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness.
Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation and related services rests with the housing authorities. Accordingly, the Department does not fund any service directly, but it does provide funding for housing authorities to meet up to 90% of the costs incurred by them. A substantial proportion of the funding is provided for services provided by non-governmental organisations which are contracted by housing authorities. They include emergency and supported accommodation arrangements, daytime services, outreach services and tenancy sustainment.
The response to resolving the issue of homelessness requires a multi-agency approach. A number of other Departments and agencies are responsible for delivering supports to families and their children who are experiencing homelessness. They include the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Tusla, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills. In September 2017 the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, established the homelessness inter-agency group to ensure services for individuals, families and their children were provided in a coherent and co-ordinated manner. The group is chaired by Mr. John Murphy, former Secretary General of the then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
The root cause of the increase in homelessness is the shortage of supply across the housing sector. Key to resolving the issue of homelessness will be increasing the supply of social housing. Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s action plan on housing and homelessness, has been designed to accelerate all types of housing supply, including social, private and rental. During the lifetime of the plan some 50,000 new social houses will be provided, supported by an Exchequer investment of more than €6 billion, with 87,000 other housing supports delivered in the six years from 2016 to 2021, inclusive. In addition, housing output generally will be progressively increased towards the target of producing 25,000 houses per year through all channels. The plan provides for early solutions to address the high number of households in emergency accommodation such as the delivery of independent tenancies under the various social housing support programmes. It includes the delivery of an increased social housing supply under new build, acquisition and refurbishment schemes. Independent tenancies are provided for homeless households in the private rented sector through the provision of housing supports such as the enhanced housing assistance payment.
The Department is working with the housing authorities to minimise the use of hotels for families who require emergency accommodation through the development of family hubs. Family hubs offer a more suitable form of emergency accommodation, with better facilities for families with children, including cooking and laundry facilities and more recreational space. Families in hubs are supported by the service provider to identify and secure an independent tenancy, including a tenancy in a local authority property, a property provided by an approved housing body or a tenancy in the private rented sector supported by the housing assistance payment. Family hubs are very much a short-term solution and not intended for long-term use.
In April the Office of the Ombudsman for Children published the report, No Place Like Home, on the experiences of children and the parents of young children in family hubs. The Minister subsequently met the Ombudsman for Children to discuss it. The Department is examining the recommendations made in the report in consultation with the homelessness inter-agency group. The examination also involves consultation with NGO service providers which operate the hubs.
The latest homelessness report published by the Department is for May. It shows that during that month 1,700 families with 3,749 children or other dependants were accessing emergency accommodation. I assure the committee that delivering a housing solution for each of these families is an absolute priority for the Department. We are fully committed to ensuring the appropriate policy and funding framework is in place to deliver these solutions. In 2018 more than 5,000 adults exited homelessness into an independent tenancy. Our priority is to ensure exits to tenancies for each of the families and other households in emergency accommodation. Moreover, prevention initiatives such as the HAP placefinder service work with households at risk of homelessness to identify solutions to ensure they will not have to enter emergency accommodation. For example, in Dublin, approximately half of the families who present to homeless services each month are prevented from having to enter emergency accommodation. We also see significant numbers exiting emergency accommodation every month. In Dublin, in the first five months of the year, a total of 437 families entered emergency accommodation for the first time. However, during this period 462 families were prevented from entering emergency accommodation, while 404 exited emergency accommodation through the creation of 866 new tenancies.
My colleagues and I are happy to discuss these and other issues and answer questions members may have.