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Homeless Persons Supports (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 3

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Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan As the Minister is aware, there are now more than 3,200 children living in hotel rooms, family hubs, bed and breakfast accommodation, domestic violence refuges and other unsuitable and cramped accommodation. The Minister and her Government committed to ending the use of hotel rooms and that type of accommodation for accommodating families who are homeless by 1 July 2017. That deadline was missed. Although some families were moved into hubs, I believe 690 families are still in hotel rooms. Has the Minister carried out any studies in respect of the physical and mental health impacts of this on children? Is there any follow-up when, hopefully and at long last, they receive permanent accommodation? What weekly actions will the Minister take in order to protect and care for the welfare of those children? For example, has the Minister visited any of the hotels or hubs in question?

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 51 together. I thank Deputy Broughan for the excellent questions. I believe the Deputy is aware that I am committed to helping children and families as part of the whole-of-Government response to the problem of homelessness. I believe that living in emergency accommodation such as hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation impacts negatively on the health of children and their families. Living in very confined spaces gives rise to a lot of stress. Children have no facilities to do their homework. Parents have spoken to me about the difficulty in toilet training toddlers. My Department has co-funded a study on food access and nutritional health among families living in hotel accommodation. It did not make for pleasant reading but it absolutely confirmed that this type of accommodation is not conducive to healthy children or healthy families.

We are trying to find a solution which, in the medium term, provides an environment where children and families can live in a less stressed, less cramped environment. This is why the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has accelerated the provision of family hubs. I have visited some of these myself, both purpose built and an existing building. Importantly, they provide space for children to play. The hubs also provide a better setting for supports such as homework clubs, meeting with support workers and activities that are organised for both children and parents.

They are not a long-term solution but, in my opinion and from what families have told me, the hubs are a big improvement on hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. There are currently 11 hubs in operation. Ten of these are in Dublin and one is in Limerick. Between them, they provide just over 300 units of family accommodation. Four new hubs will be delivered before the end of the year. These will provide more than 100 additional units of family accommodation in Dublin. Two further new hubs will be delivered in Limerick before the end of the year, providing 34 units of family accommodation. Early next year, there will be more than 55 further units of family accommodation in Dublin with the opening of two new hubs. In addition, there will be a 19 unit family hub opening in Cork early in the new year. There is a proposal in planning for a hub in Galway.

Through my Department, I have introduced free child care for the children of families experiencing homelessness. Some families are already eligible under existing schemes. I am happy to say that the families of an additional 154 children are availing of this measure, which also provides for a daily meal for the child. This was introduced as a direct response to a request from the homeless agencies to do this. It was a response to the needs of the child and also the needs of the parents. In addition, I asked Tusla to fund the provision of child support workers for one of the homeless agencies, which it has done. It has also appointed a homelessness liaison officer who works with all the other agencies and providers helping homeless families.

As we discussed earlier, Tusla also has responsibility for the school completion programme. This provides supports for children at risk of not reaching their potential in the educational system. It does this through initiatives such as after-school supports, homework clubs, mentoring programmes, therapeutic interventions, and breakfast clubs. In response to the homeless crisis, all school completion programmes now engage with schools on an ongoing basis, not just at the start of the year, so that children who become homeless during the course of the year are provided with support through the school completion programme.

Tusla and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, at my request, are also supporting an initiative to support women who are pregnant and homeless or at risk of homelessness. Tusla is providing funding for the recruitment of support workers for this service. Our children and their families need permanent homes. That is the goal of the Government. In the meantime, I will continue to support measures to help these children and their families, both within my area of responsibility and also with colleagues in other Departments.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan I thank the Minister for her reply. The Minister referred to a study on food access and nutrition. Will this report be published or will it be made available to Deputies? Earlier today, Members spoke about the accountability of Ministers and the accountability of this House. After the past three or four years of watching families who are homeless ending up in hotel rooms and in hubs, it seems to me that Ministers will be held accountable on this in future Dáileanna and maybe future tribunals. It is something to which the Minister needs to give daily attention. In my experience and from the reports I receive, families have warned us of longer-term physical and mental health impacts on children of living in accommodation without cooking facilities, without space for babies to crawl or learn to walk, with missed visits from public health nurses and so on. These heartbreaking stories bring home to us how inappropriate these locations are, especially the hotel room situation. Deputies get calls from desperate couples and mothers, who realise that their children are really suffering day in and day out because of these conditions.

With regard to family hubs, I am aware that the Minister has probably looked at the excellent study by Dr. Rory Hearne and Dr. Mary Murphy on the operation of family hubs for the housing of families who are homeless. The clear indication of the report is that three months is the very maximum period a family should be in a hub. It is a desperate situation for those families who are suffering.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan I represent people who have been in this situation for two years plus. We need a very strong response from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Deputy Katherine Zappone: Information on Katherine Zappone Zoom on Katherine Zappone The Deputy is absolutely correct that the Ministers should be, and are, held accountable. I appreciate the Deputy's questions. He has raised some of them with me previously.

On the question of researching and studying the mental health and well-being of the children, I agree with the issues identified by Deputy Broughan. It is not good for the mental health and well-being of young children to be in bed and breakfast accommodation and emergency accommodation. I have seen this myself also when I have gone around. My initial, and continued, response in the context of my Department was to find ways to mitigate the impact of the difficulties that children and young people experience in that regard. Early on, I identified some of those issues, having consulted with the agencies about what would help in that context. The Deputy is absolutely right that we did not meet the deadline that was originally set. As part of the process towards meeting the deadline, there was the establishment of family hubs. I have been in a couple of them and I have heard from the people who are there and say to me that the hubs are providing a very different way of ensuring supports for families ultimately to find secure accommodation and a housing solution for them. It is not just about the place. When I visited the Tallaght family hub, I was told that families no longer had the responsibility of the self-accommodation option as they were self-accommodating with supports to help them find their housing solutions.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan There will be a final contribution from Deputy Broughan. There are 58 seconds remaining and the clock is ticking.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan We are a few days in to the 16 day international campaign opposing violence against women and I note that two outstanding organisations in my constituency, Aoibhneas and Sonas, have both complained about aspects of the guidelines, particularly those from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, in respect of families who are fleeing domestic violence. These organisations feel that some of the guidelines are actually erecting barriers for mothers fleeing to safety with their children. Some people find at the end of their time in a refuge that there is absolutely no accommodation option but to return to the abusive home setting.

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