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Dublin: 22 °C Tuesday 4 August, 2020
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Homeless figures drop for fifth month in a row but charities warn government's actions may reverse this trend

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said that the number of people homeless is still “simply too high”.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien
Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnewsie

THE NUMBER OF people in Ireland in emergency accommodation has fallen for the fifth month in a row, but charities are warning that this welcome trend may be reversed following recent action by the government.

In June, 8,699 individuals were in emergency accommodation – a reduction of 177 on the figures from May. It continues a trend seen in recent months during the pandemic, beginning with March seeing the numbers of people homeless dropping below 10,000.

Last month, there were 6,046 adults and 2,653 children in emergency accommodation. Within these figures were 1,159 families. 

In a separate quarterly report from the Department of Housing, it showed that 1,467 adults and their dependents exited homelessness in April, May and June. 

While welcoming aspects of the figures, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the number of people and families who are homeless is “simply too high”. 

He said one of his main priorities as minister will be to accelerate the number of people exiting homelessness. 

“Improved delivery of social and affordable housing will be key but we will also be focusing on increasing the levels of supports to households with complex needs,” he said.

The figures show that 70% of those in homelessness are single adults, and O’Brien said he was committed to securing more one-bedroom homes.

The minister said: “I recently launched a ‘Call for Housing 2020’, which is a new national call for property owners and developers with vacant properties to make them available for social housing. As part of the July Stimulus I have also allocated an extra €40 million to Local Authorities to refurbish homes and bring them back into the social housing stock.”

Concerns

Charities working in the sector, however, have expressed concerns that the protections for tenants that were introduced for Covid-19 may now be significantly weaker under new legislation proposed by the new government.

Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, said: “The last five months have proved that the first defence against the virus is a stable home. Measures such as the moratorium on evictions and rent freezes have evidently worked as the number of homeless have reduced significantly since March.

We are deeply concerned that, when these protections simply end tomorrow, 1 August, we will return to the scale of evictions we were previously seeing plus having to deal with the cases which were postponed while the protections were in place.

The Simon Communities raised a similar point, and said that the decrease in the number of people in emergency accommodation had largely been driven by the reduction of the number families who are homeless.

Its national spokesperson Wayne Stanley said: “This decrease in families in emergency accommodation is due to the moratorium on evictions for sale or personal use, and the collaboration of NGO’s, local Authorities and the HSE in utilising available housing stock to support people to move out of homelessness.

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“Unfortunately, that moratorium will end with the passing of the Residential Tenancy and Valuations Bill 2020.

This will see more families having to enter homelessness in the months ahead, reversing the really progressive trend we have all worked so hard to achieve in the last months. In turn, homeless services will be stretched given public health requirements around social distancing.

Inner City Helping Homeless also sounded a word of caution as it welcomed the fall in homeless numbers.

Head of communications Brian McLoughlin said: “However for the reductions to be maintained the ban on evictions needed to be extended until 2021 and the residential tenancies bill that was approved by the Dail yesterday has undone all of this good work.

We expect to see increases for the remainder of the year as a result. The ban on evictions showed us immediately how effective it can be but that good work was all undone yesterday.

Social Democrats housing spokesperson Cian O’Callaghan also expressed concerns at the latest figures.

“Instead of putting ever increasing resources into emergency accommodation, the focus must shift to prevention and providing long-term secure housing,” he said. “We need an urgent change in direction from this government.”

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Sean Murray

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