Friday 22 November 2019

Don't blame us for the homeless crisis, says charity boss

Labour TD Joanna Tuffy
Labour TD Joanna Tuffy

Martin Grant and Niall O'Connor

A leading homeless charity has hit back at the Government, saying it should focus its energies on tackling the homelessness crisis instead of attacking charities.

It comes as Environment Minister Alan Kelly criticised local authorities for what he claimed was their lack of co-operation in dealing with the crisis and insisted funding is not a problem.

Responding to comments by Labour's Joanna Tuffy that charities did not draw down funding from the Housing Finance Agency, the Peter McVerry Trust said it was "disappointed but not surprised" that the TD had rounded on them in the midst of the crisis.

"We are bitterly disappointed, but not surprised by the decision by this Labour TD to attack homeless charities rather than tackle the homeless crisis," said the trust's CEO Pat Doyle.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Tuffy said all State funding should be scrutinised.

"I wasn't attacking them. If the state is providing 60pc of their funding, then it's very legitimate for a public representative like me to raise issues to their approach.

"I think all State funding should be scrutinised. They are not above scrutiny, especially considering the level of State funding they get," she added.

Meanwhile, Mr Kelly yesterday claimed that funding is not an issue when it comes to tackling homelessness - and more can be provided if he wants it.

"Local authorities, particularly local authority members, need to look into themselves as regard to decisions they are going to have to make in the coming months.

"I can get more funding. If I look for more funding from Government in the morning, I'll get it. It's as simple as that. What we need is greater co-operation," Mr Kelly added.

However, Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen insisted funding is an issue.

"On the ground, there are issues about funding. If he (the minister) says that the funding is there and (we) can draw it down, then we don't know about that. The local authorities, the minister and the department should sort that problem," he told the Irish Independent.

"At a higher level, there needs to be greater coordination between Government departments and Cabinet in terms of moving the various initiatives along faster."

A senior source last night said the relationship between the Department of the Environment and Dublin City Council (DCC) is "problematic".

"The relationship between the Custom House and Dublin local authorities is more problematic than I think it has ever been.

"There are always tensions between local authorities and Custom House. But it's very serious at the moment," the source added.

President of the Association of Irish Local Government Padraig McNally, who represents members of the country's 31 county and city councils, rejected Mr Kelly's comments.

"I believe it (the homeless crisis) is down to funding rather than a lack of cooperation.

"I believe that if we were given sufficient funding over the next years, we could alleviate the problem within 10 years," he added.

Tensions between the Government and DCC have also heightened after the council's finance chief blamed the homeless crisis on caps on rent supplement payments.

The council's head of finance, Kathy Quinn, said the council is being hit disproportionately in terms of the cost of providing homeless services.

In council documents, seen by the Irish Independent, Ms Quinn said the increase in the number of families presenting as homeless is "unwelcome".

"An important and unwelcome aspect of this trend has been an increase in the number of families with dependent children presenting as homeless.

"Many of these households have to be accommodated on a temporary basis in hotels, which is expensive and unsatisfactory," Ms Quinn wrote.

Ms Quinn added that the costs to address homelessness will increase.

"The level of expenditure being incurred on homeless services increased disproportionately to other local authority service costs in 2014. If presentation levels in 2015 remain at 2014 levels, the cost of homeless service provision will further increase."

Ms Quinn made the remarks in response to the annual Department of Environment audit of DCC.

Meanwhile, the Government's instructions that 50pc of all housing allocations must go to homeless households has so far yielded almost 530 homes.

Irish Independent

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