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The government got an 'F' from 100 organisations over how it's handling child and family homelessness

The government has also been criticised for not introducing national standards for emergency accommodation.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been strongly criticised for a delay in bringing forward a national quality framework for homeless services, which still hasn’t been fully implemented close to four years after it was first developed.

The Irish government yesterday received an ‘F’ grade from the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card 2019 in relation to child and family homelessness, a drop from an ‘E’ grade last year.

The CRA – made up of over 100 different organisations – said that the grade reflects the deteriorating housing crisis, with close to 10,000 people now living in state-funded emergency homeless accommodation.

“Nearly 4,000 children are experiencing homelessness which is having a detrimental impact on their health, wellbeing, education and relationships,” the CRA said. 

It said that the government needed to recognise child homelessness was a “national emergency”. 

The homeless problem is at its most acute in Dublin, with latest figures showing just over 1,250 families with close to 2,700 children living in homeless emergency accommodation in the capital in December (figures for January are due out this week). 

Of that number, 711 families with just under 1,600 children are living in private hotels and B&Bs, while close to 750 children are living in group style homeless accommodation known as family hubs.

The vast majority of families in hotels are “self-accommodating” – meaning they have to source the accommodation themselves, with the council then paying for it. 

Quality in emergency accommodation

Quality standards in emergency accommodation have been raised as a serious issue multiple times over the past number of years. 

Figures compiled by Focus Ireland show that in December over 280 families had been living in emergency accommodation for over 18 months. For many, this could mean living in single hotel rooms or other unsuitable accommodation.

In 2017, the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) – which manages homeless services across the four Dublin local authorities – received over 300 complaints in relation to homeless emergency accommodation.   

Common issues reported with emergency accommodation include bug bed and mice infestations, drug use in accommodation, dampness and mould, anti-social behaviour and violence among residents. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The government has come in for frequent criticism from non-governmental organisations and opposition politicians in relation to the highly unsuitable nature of emergency accommodation for housing children and families. 

“We get about 20 to 30 complaints a week from people in emergency accommodation,” Anthony Flynn, CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless, told TheJournal.ie.

“The fact of the matter is the DRHE standards are atrocious,” he said. 

National quality framework

The DRHE first developed the National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) for Homeless Services in 2015 in consultation with other stakeholders. 

The objectives of the framework are to promote safe and effective services for homeless people; help people move through homelessness; and establish consistency in services across the country. 

The NQSF is meant to be applicable to all homeless services in receipt of Section 10 funding (meaning funding from the Department of Housing for homelessness services). It is also meant to apply the services whether they are statutory, voluntary, or private. 

This means that quality standards apply to emergency accommodation provided by charities or private companies who have a lease with a local council (like in the case of a family hub).

For the hundreds of families living in hotels or B&Bs that they sourced themselves, however, there are no quality standards or inspections in place and no plans by government to introduce them. 

In total, 20 pilot projects adopting the NQSF were implemented in Dublin, the Midlands, the South West and North East during 2016 and 2017.

It was planned to have a national framework rolled out in 2017, but the government has not yet moved on the issue. Charity officials and opposition politicians have criticised the government for its failure to roll out standards nationwide. 

The government has also been criticised for the lack of an independent body (similar to Hiqa) to carry out inspections.

As things stand in Dublin, the Dublin Fire Brigade and Environmental Health Officers from Dublin City Council inspect homeless services, rather than any independent body. 

‘Dragging its heels’

In response to a Parliamentary Question from Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy confirmed that guidance on national quality standards would be issued to all local authorities before the end of March of this year. 

Ó Broin has accused the government of “dragging its heels” on implementing the quality standards framework, labelling it a “painfully slow process”.

“This has been a painfully slow process. I cannot understand how it is taking so long especially when there are other examples of independent inspections regimes in place,” he said.  

He also said that the standards should apply to both commercial and public providers and have inspections carried out by an independent body.   

“The government has taken too long. Children and families living in emergency accommodation deserve good quality standards, since many of them are trapped there for two years or more,” Ó Broin said. 

In its Report Card for 2018, the CRA said that while the national standards were welcome, an independent inspectorate was necessary to monitor compliance. 

Commenting on the report card, Labour housing spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan said that Minister Murphy “clearly does not understand the complexity of family and childhood homelessness”.

“Rebuilding Ireland (the government’s Housing Action Plan) has failed families and children living in homelessness. The Minister must wake up to the reality of this crisis, and put families and children first,” she said.

DRHE response

A spokesperson for the DRHE said that the quality standards framework had already been rolled out in the Dublin region for charities providing emergency accommodation.

As well as this, the DRHE said that in had in place a system of inspection and review for providers of emergency accommodation (that does not apply to places where families are self-accommodating).

“All service providers are required to ensure that buildings should be suitable for their stated purpose and comply with relevant and applicable housing standard legislation, fire safety regulations and health and safety legislation,” the spokesperson said.

They said the DRHE also had agreements with service providers which ensured compliance with all the statutory health and safety standards and laws relating to child protection.

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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