Threshold, the national housing organisation, today welcomed the almost 20% reduction in homelessness in Dublin reported by the Homeless Agency. The decrease is the result of close cooperation between voluntary organisations and state agencies working to combat homelessness. However, Threshold is alarmed at the long periods of time that many people remain homeless and calls for more social housing and the removal of obstacles for homeless people seeking private rented accommodation.
The 2005 Counted In report contains the findings of a week-long survey of people accessing homeless services in March 2005. The Dublin figure of 2,015 adults and children represents a decrease of 492 people (19%) on the previous homeless count conducted in 2002. The number of people sleeping rough decreased by a third (33%) between 1999 and 2005, from 275 in 1999 to 185 in 2005. Over two-fifths of people accessing homeless services (43%) said they were homeless for three years or more.
Threshold is involved in both preventing homelessness and providing longer-term solutions. Advice centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway help over 20,000 people with housing problems each year, by challenging threats of eviction, seeking improved standards for people in poor quality accommodation, and helping people to recover rent deposits. Threshold’s Access Housing Unit (AHU) in Dublin has helped 471 people, including 161 children, to move out of emergency accommodation and into private rented accommodation since its establishment in late 2002. The AHU, funded by the Homeless Agency, takes people referred from homeless organisations such as Focus Ireland, Simon Communities of Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, and engages with landlords to secure them accommodation. But the AHU is finding it increasingly difficult to get accommodation at acceptable rents for its clients.
Rent cap limits for single people under the Government’s rent supplement scheme are too low and rent supplement is paid to landlords in arrears rather than in advance. So people on rent supplement are at an immediate disadvantage compared to other tenants. At the launch of Counted In, the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, Noel Ahern TD, identified the potential of the new Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) to help overcome these kinds of problems. While Threshold welcomes the approach offered by RAS, it is unlikely to impact on people who are homeless in the short-term. Threshold believes that the Department of Social and Family Affairs should grant more discretion to Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) and that rent supplement should be paid in advance for people moving out of homelessness.
Patrick Burke, Director of Threshold, said:
“While ‘Counted In’ shows welcome progress, a lot more needs to be done. The emphasis needs to be on preventing homelessness and on providing longer-term solutions for people in emergency accommodation. Prevention initiatives such as Threshold’s housing advice services need to be adequately funded so that people don’t have to access crisis services in the first place. Rent supplement rules should also be more flexible for people moving out of homelessness.
The Government must also redouble its efforts to provide social housing. Threshold is calling on the Government to accept the National Economic and Social Council’s target of 73,000 additional social housing units between 2007 and 2012. This roughly equates to 10,000 units per year and is the minimum required to meet the long-term housing needs of people experiencing homeless and people at risk of homelessness.”
Note to Editors:
The Rental Accommodation Scheme is a scheme whereby local authorities will assume responsibility for people on rent supplement for 18 months or longer. Local authorities will engage in long-term contracts with landlords to provide private rented accommodation.