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Dublin City Council top official says 252 people removed from April homeless figures are 'still homeless'

Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin has accused the government of “massaging the figures”.

Image: Shutterstock/Svetlana.Is

Updated 3.45pm 

THE ASSISTANT CHIEF Executive of Dublin City Council (DCC) Brendan Kenny has said that over 250 people removed from monthly homelessness figures in Dublin are still homeless.

Kenny was defending the removal of families from the numbers on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

He spoke following the publication yesterday evening of the April figures for homeless people staying in State-funded emergency accommodation in Ireland.

They showed a slight drop in the number of homeless people in Ireland (29), but an increase in the number of homeless children (43).

The homelessness crisis is by far at its worst in Dublin. Figures for April show 1,351 families with 2,810 dependents were in emergency accommodation.

Upon releasing the figures, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy stated that an additional 297 people had been removed in relation to an ongoing “categorisation issue”. 252 of these were located in Dublin.

This followed the removal from the figures in March of close to 600 adults and children over the same issue of miscategorisation.

The move by the minister has prompted fierce debate from opposition politicians, with Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin two weeks ago calling Murphy either “not competent” or “not fit for office”.

Murphy has repeatedly defended his move, stating that the individuals removed from the monthly figures were either in secure housing in the private rental sector, living in local authority housing stock, or in other secure housing arrangements.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today, Ó Broin accused the government of “blatant manipulation” of the figures, which he said make for “grim reading”.

“Behind every one of these figures is a real person, a mother with a child trapped in emergency accommodation, a pensioner unsure where they will sleep tomorrow … Accurate data is important and massaging the figures is wrong,” he stated.

Dublin figures

Speaking earlier today, Brendan Kenny – who has responsibility for homelessness in DCC – said that the 65 families removed from the April figures were in “modern, fully furnished apartments in various parts of the city”.

“They’re properties that probably should have been taken out a long time before now,” he said.

He said that the council was “probably paying over the market” for the apartments, and that it was working on securing leases for the families involved.

He said that the families had been living in this type of arrangement without leases or tenancy arrangements, but that they were still homeless.

“There’s no tenancy agreement. They’re still homeless. They’re on the homeless list, they have homeless priority,” Kenny said.

They’re probably more secure than many people actually out in the private rental sector who have a tenancy, who have a lease.

Kenny said that despite these families being homeless, they were “a lot more secure than a lot of people that are actually out in the private rented sector”.

“What we’re trying to do is to rationalise that into a situation where we would lease the property over five years or 10 years from the owner and give a tenancy to the family that are there,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) told TheJournal.ie that the families in question had been put in “own door apartments” rented by the DRHE.

“It is expected that longer term leases will be negotiated for these properties,” the spokesperson said.

While these families are accessing homeless support services, they are not currently at risk of homelessness.

Reclassifying the figures

When questioned over whether the council had been told by the Housing Department to remove the 252 adults and children from the monthly figures, Brendan Kenny said:

“No one asked us to reclassify the figures.

We’ve been working on this for some time. We think the stats don’t give a true reflection of the situation.

He said that removing homeless families from the monthly figures “makes no difference whatsoever to the families”.

“Those families still have overall priority so they’re not changed in any way,” he said.

Monthly homeless figures from regions across Ireland have been compiled by local authorities and the Department and released to the public since 2014.

Experts working in the homelessness sector, as well as policy analysts and international observers, have welcomed this publication as means of tracking and identifying trends on homeless presentations on a month-by-month basis.

Speaking today, Kenny said that there were issues with how the figures were presented. As an example, he referenced a sharp rise in the number of adults in homeless emergency accommodation over the past year.

“One of the main reasons for that is that we have sourced emergency accommodation for them, we’ve actually taken them off the streets, we’ve taken them out of homelessness but because of the way that the stats are given it’s seen as the figures are going up in emergency accommodation,” he said.

He also referenced providing 300 spaces for families in group style homeless accommodation, launched last year as “family hubs”.

He said that this had made “a big contribution to many homeless families”.

“But it’s still thrown into the pot as emergency accommodation so we’ve been looking at how we can review the system to try and give a better reflection of the situation,” he said.

Officials from leading homelessness charities have repeatedly questioned the rationale behind removing homeless children and adults from the official monthly figures.

“We urgently request more detail on this; if these are individuals and households without a tenancy or license agreement in place they should be included in the figures until they have a more permanent, secure arrangement in place such as a HAP or social housing,” said Niamh Randall of the Simon Communities.

Two reports into the categorisation issue – as well as the wider issue of people presenting as homeless – are due in the next few weeks on Minister Murphy’s desk.

“When I have received both reports I intend bringing forward new proposals that will have a further positive impact on the crisis,” Murphy has said.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Ó Broin said Murphy is “clearly failing to do his job”. Tánaiste Simon Coveney defended his Fine Gael colleague, saying the government will invest billions in order to create 100,000 new social houses over the next 10 years.

Coveney, who previously served as Housing Minister, said: “I do accept that we have far, far too many children and families who are homeless today.”

He denied the figures were being massaged and said local authorities decide how to categorise their homeless figures.

Coveney said he is “happy to be held to account” over the housing crisis, and that the government’s policy changes in this regard will be prove to be “highly effective” in the future.

He said €50 million has been spent on family hubs to date, which are not ideal but are a “significant improvement” on living in emergency accommodation as families have more “dignity and privacy” and can do their own cooking.

Coveney said some 650 social houses were provided in 2016, noting that this number increased to just under 2,300 in 2017 and will be “significantly higher again” this year, reaching 7,000 to 10,000 units per year in the future.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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