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Homeless crisis will not begin to ease until at least 2021, committee told

A Trinity professor said the recategorisation of homeless figures has “undermined confidence in the data”.

Updated Nov 8th 2018, 1:40 PM

THE HOMELESS CRISIS will not begin to ease until at least 2021, the Oireachtas Housing Committee was told today. 

Eileen Gleeson, the Director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, said it would take to “at least” 2021 before the intensity of dealing with homelessness reduced, and the number of presentations to emergency accommodation decreases. 

“The key is supply,” she said, adding that while the supply is coming, Ireland needs to get to a place where supply is outstripping demand.

“Until then, we will have a crisis in homelessness,” said Gleeson.

Housing department officials, as well as representatives from the Homeless Inter-Agency Group and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, were attending the committee today to discuss the categorisation of homeless figures. 

The committee also heard from Professor Eoin O’Sullivan from the School of Social Work and Social Policy at Trinity College who told committee members that from the current data available, it is clear there “will continue to be a flow” of people from the private sector into homelessness over the next year.

He said the data indicates that the flow into emergency accommodation is increasing, and that exits from emergency accommodation is decreasing.

“That has been the pattern in the first half of this year,” he said, adding that this sort of pattern will continue “for at least another year”.

The professor added that there was “very little on the horizon” to suggest anything will change in the next year.

shutterstock_487430101 Source: Shutterstock/ChameleonsEye

O’Sullivan also told the committee that the recategorisation of homeless figures has “undermined confidence in the data” as it is unclear what the criteria is for removing certain households from the department’s monthly reports. 

Professor Eoin O’Sullivan said some confusion has arisen on measuring the number of people experiencing homelessness, because different State bodies use different definitions and units of analysis. 

The professor told the committee today that it “would be helpful” if the department spelt out in greater detail the criteria it is utilising and the rationale behind the removal of 625 adults from the monthly homeless reports in 2018.

He says this is vital to ensure confidence in the monthly reports published by the housing department. 

Following statements from both Gleeson and Mary Hurley, who has responsibility at Assistant Secretary level for the Social Housing Division, it was pointed out to the committee today both women have differing views on the people taken off the homeless list. 

Gleeson said that in her opinion, those removed from the list could be categorised as homeless, while Hurly believed they could not be categorised as homeless. 

People Before Profit’s Mick Barry said it was extraordinary that the Housing Department and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive “are disagreeing about the definition of homelessness”. 

Categorisation

In April of last year, the government said it had identified a categorisation error which “overstated the total number of people who are in emergency accommodation in the State”.

Commenting on the error at the time, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said:

“A number of local authorities have erroneously categorised individuals and families living in local authority owned or leased housing stock, including some instances of people renting in the private sector but in receipt of social housing supports, as being in emergency accommodation.”

Murphy said at the time that at least 600 individuals were identified as having been categorised as homeless and in emergency accommodation when they are not. He added that “some but not all of these individuals have been removed from the total numbers”.

More people were removed from the homeless figures report in May 2017, with the minister saying that a further 252 people in Dublin had to be taken out of the figures as they were living in a home rather than in emergency accommodation.

Professor O’Sullivan explained that to date, there have been two modifications to the monthly data – the first, the removal of refuges, which was transferred to Tusla, did not undermine confidence in the data, “as there was a clear rationale and logic for the removal”.

The second was the recent recategorisation over what constitutes the legal basis of the residence.

He asked if it is categorised as a licence or a tenancy, rather than the physical characteristics of the residence, a house, flat or congregate setting and said the criteria for determining whether households are included or excluded in the monthly reports needs to be outlined.

There are also limitations to the monthly homelessness reports, said the professor, who highlights that the data does not capture the number of people using emergency or temporary shelters not funded by the local authorities, those rough sleeping, and those in Section 10 funded long-term supported accommodation, nor households in insecure or inadequate accommodation. 

Data on rough sleeping was, and still is, collected via a street count twice a year in
Dublin (in March and November) but data on rough sleeping is not routinely or
systematically collected outside Dublin, he adds.

Sinn Féin’s Eoin O’Broin urged the department and the relevant groups to come together and agree on a methodology for counting the homeless figures, stating “it is clear to me there isn’t consensus between the different sectors”. 

He said the best course of action is for a methodology to be approved, which can then be applied retrospectively to past figures, so as to ensure there is accurate and reliable data. O’Broin said this could be done with the help of the Central Statistics Office, which is already assisting the department with its work. 

Whatever is produced in the future, it needs to be consistent, he said, adding that this is the only way the department can end the “controversy” surrounding the recatagorisation of people in homelessness. 

The latest homeless figures published last month show that the number of children living in emergency accommodation in Ireland rose by 136 last month.

Emergency accommodation figures for September show that there are now collectively 9,698 people living in homeless accommodation across Ireland. 

The number of homeless adults rose by 35 in September to 5,869. 

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