Irish government recommended to ramp up housing provision as policy

With social housing still to feature in UK general election campaign, two reports to the Irish parliament show what should be done.

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In the UK, a general election ‘leader’s debate’ passes without reference to a housing crisis; in Ireland, two parliamentary reports recommend ramping the provision of social and affordable housing to homeless families over the next two years.

The reports published by two Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Committees call for commitments to an acceleration in the provision of social and affordable housing, an independent review of the use of family hubs, independent inspections, and monitoring of standards in homeless accommodation.

Combined, the reports make 34 recommendations to address homelessness and its effects on children and families.

Figures for August show the number of homeless families in the State at 1,725, with 3,848 accompanying homeless children.

And children now account for more than one in three people in emergency accommodation.

“The impact of homelessness on children can be devastating in every facet of their young lives,” said Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs chairman Alan Farrell TD.

“Simple things like having a secure place to live, share meals with their families, do their homework, and have friends around to play with are out of the reach of the thousands of children currently experiencing homelessness.

“This cannot be allowed to continue, and we as a society must act to prevent long-term social and emotional damage to children, as a result of homelessness,” he said.

The chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, Noel Rock TD, said homelessness is one of the most pressing issues facing Irish society.

He said: “The Committee acknowledges that the root cause of homelessness in the State is due to the shortage of social and affordable housing.

“While it will take time to implement the necessary changes to the housing system, the Committee would like to see measures put in place the mitigate and reduce the effects of homelessness on families and children as best as possible, as well as implementing system change so the situation we are faced with today does not reoccur in the future.”

Combined, the reports make 34 recommendations to address homelessness and its effects on children and families.

The Impact of Homelessness on Children report by the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs report makes 20 recommendations, including:

  • The government should accelerate the provision of social and affordable housing to homeless families over the next two years
  • An examination of the possibility of enumerating the right to housing in the Constitution as a matter or priority
  • An end to placing children in hotel and B&B accommodation because of the destructive impact cramped living conditions have on children’s health
  • An independent review of the response to homelessness, including family hubs
  • An independent inspectorate to monitor homelessness services standards
  • The development of a national family homelessness strategy
  • The needs of sick children in emergency accommodation to be identified and healthcare access guaranteed
  • All-year Leap cards provided to homeless children and their parents in Dublin to ensure transport to medical appointments and hospitals
  • Improved data collection on homelessness
  • Provision of extra supports for schools attended by children in homeless families
  • Free access to OPW sites during school holidays for homeless children
  • A phased reduction on the use of the private-rental market for housing provision
  • Acceleration of the provision of social and affordable housing to homeless families over the next two years

The Child and Family Homelessness report from the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, and Local Governments makes 14 recommendations, including:

  • Significantly increase capital investment in and output of social and affordable housing
  • An end to the provision of one-night-only emergency accommodation – when a family has nowhere to go between 9.30am and 8pm
  • Consideration given to expanding the remit of the Health Information and Quality Authority to allow it to inspect and monitor all homeless services
  • Statutory minimum standards and criteria for family hubs
  • Restricting the right of landlords to issue vacant possession notices to quit when selling their property
  • Practical supports, such as case managers and child support workers, for each family in emergency accommodation

Children’s rights and homeless organisations gave evidence and made submissions on child and family homelessness to TDs and senators at meetings of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, and Local Government.

Numerous stakeholders made submissions and presentations on the impact of homelessness on children to the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs as part of its investigation on the issue.

This month, charity Focus Ireland said more than 140 children have been born into homeless families in Dublin alone so far this year.

Launching its Christmas Appeal, the charity – supporting 1,215 children in 580 families in Dublin – called on the Irish government to guarantee that nobody would be without a home in the State for more than six months.

The recommendations in the reports are tempered by the Irish government not fulfilling a 2017 pledge to end a reliance on hotels and B&Bs as long-term accommodation for homeless families by July of that year.

Hotels and B&Bs remain a staple for accommodating homeless families and individuals.

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