Friday 20 September 2019

Attempts to solve homelessness hamstrung by bad data

Stock picture
Stock picture

Paul Melia

Regardless of the row over numbers, the fact remains that far too many people are homeless.

Official figures show there were 6,035 adults and 3,646 children classed as homeless in March. The Department of Housing says as many as 600 may have been miscounted. This means that the homeless numbers could be lower than previously believed, good news for an under-pressure Government. But how can the miscalculation have occurred?

The Government says some people were recorded as being homeless despite not being forced to live in emergency accommodation such as hotels, hostels, B&Bs or family hubs.

They have always been in a house, with their "own front door and own key", Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy says. In many cases, he insists, they have been in a house or apartment leased by local authorities on a short-term basis, waiting for a permanent home.

These leases may be paid for from funding allocated to the homeless crisis, meaning that because their accommodation was paid from a particular funding source, they were mistakenly classed as homeless. In other cases, these temporary solutions have since been turned into a long-term housing solution. Therefore, he contends, these 600 people are not homeless.

Nonsense, says Sinn Féin. It claims that councils have been ordered by the department not to include those in temporary accommodation in their homeless figures, so as to reduce the numbers. These families are homeless because they do not have a permanent home, it insists.

In effect, the party accuses the Government of manipulating the figures so that the numbers classed as homeless don't rise above 10,000, a record no minister wants on their watch.

Why does this matter? Accurate data is key to solving this crisis. We already have a problem with deciding how many houses are built each year, but we know that output is no-where near the level needed.

The Government will remain reliant on the private rented sector to provide homes for those in dire need for the foreseeable future, an increasingly expensive option, as the rent report from today shows.

The bigger issue is if we don't have an accurate calculation on how many people are in need of a home, how can we assess how many units will be required to get people out of emergency accommodation and into a stable home?

More importantly, without accurate figures, we cannot measure progress being made in tackling this awful problem.

Irish Independent

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