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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Rolling News

Opinion Steps were taken to reduce homelessness during Covid - we shouldn't lose momentum

Wayne Stanley of Simon Communities is asking Government to consider a Bill to prevent more people from slipping into homelessness.

AS WE EMERGE from the pandemic, we are returning to some version of normal, but if you are one of the thousands of people who are in housing distress then ‘normal’ holds the terrifying vista of homelessness.

Homelessness in Ireland was declared a ‘crisis’ in 2014 by the then Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan. Leading up to this we had begun to emerge from the financial crisis and the policies of austerity.

But the combination of a growing economy, stagnant housing construction and speculation in land and housing led to increased costs of rental and an erosion of affordability in the housing system. It is sobering to note that at that time, there were less than 4,500 people in homelessness.

Familiar story

Fast forward to 2021 and the parallels with that time are striking but the housing distress is more acute.

As we begin to unwind Covid restriction, the economy is predicted to grow quickly, we have a hyper financialised housing system where building is still constrained and rents are at record highs. Today there are over 8,000 people in homeless emergency accommodation.

It’s important to say that there are rays of hope and routes to progress. Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen a welcome fall in homelessness driven by the moratorium in evictions which stemmed the flow of people into homelessness.

This combined with a drive to allocate local authority and Approved Housing Bodies homes to those experiencing homelessness, saw a 20% fall in homelessness.

The fact that the number of people in emergency homeless accommodation fell significantly during Covid shows that we can achieve a huge amount in a short period of time if we focus on the solutions and see the political will emerge to treat homelessness as the crisis that it is.

Change the legislation

However since protections were lifted towards the end of our lockdowns, we have seen a growth in the number of people in emergency accommodation for three months in a row. That is not good enough.

Last week, for Simon Week 2021, Simon Communities of Ireland brought forward a homeless prevention Bill asking the Government to adopt it. Inspired by the success in bringing down the numbers of people in emergency accommodation during Covid, the Bill if implemented, would help lower the numbers of people coming into homelessness.

Every day our staff meet families and individuals across Ireland who have been given a valid eviction notice. They have done everything they can to secure a new home but it has just not been possible. They never believed that homelessness could happen to them and are now facing the trauma of having to enter emergency homeless accommodation.

In these crisis situations, we need to be able to secure the person a little more time in their accommodation while we support them in finding an alternative home.

The Bill creates a clause in the Residential Tenancies Act where, if a household is deemed by the local authority to be at risk of homelessness, a 12-week extension to their notice to quit is triggered.

In that period, Local Authorities and organisations like Simon could work together with the individual or family to divert them into a new tenancy. This kind of prevention work happens every day and in the Dublin region we know 55-60% of families are diverted from homelessness. If we can increase that to 70-80%, then we can see progress on homelessness even in these difficult times.

While this may initially look like a burden to landlords, the experience of Simon is that most landlords care as much about homelessness as the rest of the public. They do not want to be evicting people into homelessness.

The Simon Bill, while providing a bit more breathing space to those in crisis, will also see that family or individual engaged with the supports that they need. We are asking the public to get behind our homeless prevention Bill and ensure that we begin the work of ending homelessness now.

Wayne Stanley is Head of Policy & Communications at the Simon Communities of Ireland.

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