Friday 23 August 2019

Homeless numbers set for new spike

Charities warn of January surge in demand for services as Government misses housing targets

Warning: Mike Allen of Focus Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers
Warning: Mike Allen of Focus Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

A trend where families declare themselves as homeless post-Christmas is set to bring a spike in the number of people seeking accommodation and support this month.

Charities and organisations working in the homeless sector predict a sharp rise in the number of new families declaring as homeless in the coming days and weeks, putting a strain on resources and increasing demand for temporary and permanent accommodation. They say the trend has been prevalent since the housing crisis began.

It comes as figures compiled by Fianna Fail show the Government has repeatedly missed targets to address the housing crisis.

The figures show the Government has failed to deliver on targets to complete rapidbuild schemes, add social housing units to the national stock and missed goals to acquire, repair and lease properties to relieve the housing crisis.

Under the Rebuilding Ireland initiative, the Government aims to provide 50,000 social housing direct-build units by 2021. This target included completing 3,200 units in 2017, but fewer than a quarter of these (773) were finished before Christmas.

A repair and lease initiative rolled out by Tanaiste Simon Coveney last February aimed to deliver up to 800 units in 2017 but failed to provide any new homes. A separate rapid-build programme was to provide 800 new units but only 76 were completed.

Added to this are the 4,200 properties identified by Nama as potentially available for social housing that were rejected by local authorities or sold to other buyers.

These missed targets will put further pressure on the housing market as charities and local authorities prepare for a January spike in the number of families becoming homeless.

Many families wait until after the Christmas holidays to seek support so their children can get through the festive period as comfortably as possible. Many stay with friends or family during December under the condition they seek support early in the new year.

Landlords are also reluctant to evict tenants in the run-up to Christmas and are more likely to issue a notice to quit in January.

Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen said January was a challenging time for homeless charities to respond to the demand for their services.

"With families presenting as homeless there is a very distinct pattern," he said. "Usually there is a fall-off in newly presenting families in December and then a spike in January. That has been the pattern since this crisis started. The highest January spike was in 2016 when 125 presented themselves as homeless. The month before, only 41 families had presented as homeless. There is absolutely no reason to believe that [trend] will be any different this time around.

"It puts extra difficulty in finding emergency accommodation for those families."

Dublin Region Homeless Executive reports show a further 87 families declared themselves homeless last January, and charities expect another spike this month. In its two most recent reports on the reasons for family homelessness, the executive has cited a growing trend of families deferring the decision to access homeless supports until after the festive period.

Peter McVerry Trust CEO Pat Doyle said families were doing this to protect younger members of their families. He also hit out at Housing Agency chairman Conor Skehan, who last week claimed families were "gaming the system" by declaring themselves homeless to move up the housing waiting list.

"You often hear about a rise in January or a spike in July," said Mr Doyle.

"That is not a sudden spike. That is families planning it, telling relatives they can stay until the holidays, or until the kids finish their exams.

"That is not gaming the system. It is people putting off what is a very difficult decision.

"It would be far more productive if he [Mr Skehan] was to put down his five strategies for solving the housing crisis instead of making claims that are not backed up with hard evidence."

In the year to last July, 850 new families moved to emergency accommodation in Dublin. Of these, 380 (44.7pc) said they became homeless because they were unable to secure private rental accommodation and 341 were served with a notice to quit by their landlord.

Relationships breaking down contributed to 44.6pc of cases of family homelessness during this period. This includes 112 cases where families became homeless after the breakdown of a relationship with a parent, almost double the number who were homeless after leaving their partner (57).

Mr Doyle said these figures show the causes of homelessness are complicated.

"We have a dysfunctional private rental market. You have professionals who are living in that sector now because they can't get mortgages with the Central Bank's lending rules. They are paying exorbitant rents that a single parent could never afford, so there is nothing for him or her to fall back on."

He added that a surge in homelessness in the coming months would be very difficult for government and agencies to address.

"What worries me even more [than a January increase] is February and March," he said. "If we see a number in January and that is repeated in February and March, then that means something has gone amiss and it is getting worse."

Sunday Independent

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