Friday, February 03, 2017

Focus Ireland expresses concern as homeless figures pass 7,000

One of the country’s leading homeless charities has warned that the housing crisis in Ireland is getting worse.

In a statement this week, Focus Ireland has warned that new Government figures show the homeless crisis is deepening, with the number of people homeless in Ireland over 7,000 for the first time.

The Homeless Report for the month of December from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government found that 7,148 were homeless nationwide in the week of 18 to 25 December 2016.

Focus Ireland welcomed the fact that the report found the number of families who are homeless did not rise in December.

CEO Ashley Balbirnie said: “It is terrible to see over 7,000 people (including over 2,500 children) homeless for the first time on record. This is wrong and totally unacceptable. We worked to support over 230 families to move out of homelessness into secure homes (in partnership with the DRHE [Dublin Regional Homeless Executive] and local authorities) in the first ten months of last year. However, as these new figures show there is still much work to be done if we are to end this homeless crisis.”

The figures show that the vast majority of the 4,643 adult homeless were based in Dublin (3,162) at the time of the report. It was a similar story for the 2,505 homeless children, of which 2,096 were in the capital.

Focus Ireland also highlighted that the Government missed an opportunity to take a big step to prevent many people from becoming homeless. At the end of last year, the Government voted down an anti-homeless amendment the charity had proposed for the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016.

This amendment was submitted and supported by a number of TDs, and called on the Government to change the law to protect tenants in buy-to-let properties. The so-called ‘Focus Ireland Amendment’ sought to stop banks – and other financial institutions – from being able to repossess buy-to-let homes and evict the tenants. It would also have stopped landlords from evicting to sell with vacant possession.

Mr. Balbirnie said: “We welcomed the Government’s ‘Tyrrelstown Amendment’ which provides that landlords seeking to sell ten or more properties over a six month period cannot evict a sitting Part 4 tenant to sell with vacant possession. However, our staff report that most of the evictions from buy-to-let tenancies are by landlords with one or two properties. As our amendment was voted down this has left many people at risk and more people becoming homeless. We will continue to challenge the Government on this issue and seek the action required to protect people in their homes.”

In a statement the Department of Housing said that the cause of increased homelessness in Ireland “is the supply shortage across the housing sector, which in turn is a result of the recent economic collapse and the associated damage to the construction sector.” It also said: “However, it is important to note that much is being done to address homelessness and to secure sustainable tenancies for homeless households. For example, housing authorities assisted in more than 2,000 sustainable exits from homelessness in the first three-quarters of 2016. While final details are awaited, it is anticipated that 2,700 sustainable exits will have been achieved in 2016.”

Focus Ireland is a non-profit organisation providing services for homeless people. It is the largest national voluntary association in Ireland. It was founded by Sr Stanislaus Kennedy (Sr Stan), a member of the congregation of Religious Sisters of Charity. Its stated mission is “to advance the right of people-out-of-home to live in a place they call home through quality services, research, and advocacy.”

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