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 Header Item Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2017: Messages from Select Committees
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Homelessness Strategy

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 5

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  5 o’clock

Estimates for Public Services 2017: Messages from Select Committees

Acting Chairman (Deputy John Lahart): Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart The Select Committee on Justice and Equality has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2017 - Vote 20. The Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2017 - Votes 12 and 17.

Topical Issue Debate

Homelessness Strategy

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen The sad deaths of two men in less than 24 hours underline the scale of the challenge we face in housing. With their passing and their loss to their friends of families, it is not a time, obviously, for political point scoring. I express my condolences to those who have felt their loss.

It is, however, another call to action to get to grips with the housing crisis. Their passing represents a moral challenge to this House and to the Government. The stakes in this housing crisis could not be higher. It is an immense ethical and economic task. That challenge demands clear concerted action. A Housing First approach is the best mechanism to resolve long-term homelessness. Wraparound services that recognise and deal with the complex needs of people affected by homelessness is the only viable long-term solution. The Government must get bricks and mortar on the ground to deliver the houses that are badly needed to support such an approach.

A number of steps can be taken in the short term to alleviate the crisis that is scouring our cities and towns. Housing charities engaged on the streets in helping those affected have proposed a series of ideas to avoid the tragedies we have seen in the past few days. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, should get moving on addressing those ideas, such as out-of-hours response in local authorities, dedicated contact and a formal count of rough sleepers.

Ultimately we need to redouble our efforts to ensure the targets in Rebuilding Ireland are achieved. The repercussions of a lack of supply are felt most severely by those least able to bear it. The sad events of recent days must serve to underline how addressing supply is the key objective. The Government will ultimately be judged on that. I hope the Minister of State can set out what immediate steps he is taking on these issues.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin A number of weekends ago, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, speaking on "The Week in Politics" said that the homelessness crisis would get worse before it got better. I do not think even he realised how prophetic his words would be. As Deputy Cowen said, we have had two more deaths of people forced to sleep rough as a result of homelessness. That is seven deaths in a matter of weeks. I also offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who tragically - and unnecessarily in my view - lost their lives.

This comes in the context of a significant increase in the number of rough sleepers - 184 according to the last count. As 50 people availed of the night café on that same night, obviously the number is significantly higher. We also have the highest recorded number of people in emergency accommodation at 8,000, including 3,000 children. As we know, many of those children spend several years in emergency accommodation before getting a permanent home. This does not include adults and children in domestic violence refuges and step-down accommodation. It does not include people given leave to remain who are trapped in direct provision and using direct provision as emergency accommodation or that even wider category of people who have no home of their own, but are sofa-surfing and in imminent risk of homelessness.

As I have said a number of times previously, nobody chooses to sleep rough. People sleep rough because of the absence of emergency accommodation or appropriate, safe and secure accommodation. I understand that the 58-year-old man who tragically died in the Minister's constituency was on a priority list for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive for Housing First tenancy. The problem was that the executive did not have any properties to offer him. At the same time 1,800 turnkey projects have been offered to the Government for purchase in the last 12 months. Less than 600 are being pursued and even fewer have been purchased or tenanted.

I fully agree with Deputy Cowen that this is not a matter of party politics. However, I appeal to the Minister to review that list of 1,800 turnkey projects and ensure that as many of them as possible are purchased by the State as soon as possible to ensure that the people in emergency housing need or who are being forced to sleep rough are given the opportunity to have a safe and secure home in which to live. I ask the Minister to come back to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government with that full list of 1,800 properties that the housing agency and others have and tell us what is happening with them - what properties will be bought and when they will be tenanted - so that no more people end up dying on our streets as a result of rough sleeping and the homelessness crisis.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I join my colleagues in expressing sorrow, sympathy and support for families and friends of the two individuals who died in recent days. For those of us from the constituencies where the deaths happened, it brings the crisis home. I know very well the streets in Ranelagh where that poor man died. It is deeply shocking. There is a sense of loss and tragedy when that occurs. The crisis is right among us in all our communities and is real.

We need to work collaboratively to address this issue. A range of measures are needed. The need for a Housing First response is clear. Unfortunately there have always been cases of rough sleeping. There is now a clear connection between what is happening in our wider housing and homelessness crisis and this, the worst edge of it. We have to connect and tackle it in a co-ordinated way.

All the parties in this House need to identify how we can support the agencies looking to provide housing for people through social welfare and a range of different supported housing needs. People in that sector are increasingly running into difficulty in getting planning permission. We need certainty for those agencies. We need to assist those agencies in the provision of housing, by ensuring the planning process is not a restriction. We need to stand up to the concern that some neighbourhoods have over having a particular type of housing in their midst.

We need to support radical changes in provision. We need to cater for people who are homeless and also to cater for specific categories of people who are in need of supported accommodation. Our party will certainly help through our councillors at local level in identifying sites and ensuring planning permission is as smooth as possible. Local communities need to be brought in behind the sorts of solutions we need, avoiding unnecessary delay in the provision we need to make.

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