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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Homeless persons data.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Homeless persons data. (08 Dec 2020)

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...Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Malcolm Noonan: I thank Deputy Joan Collins for raising these important issues. I am deeply sorry to hear of those particular incidents which she raised. It is a matter the Government is taking seriously. In addressing homelessness, our approach is to prevent it, where possible, and to provide support services for those who need them, invest in housing and move people out of homelessness.

There have been a number of deaths in recent months of people who had been sleeping rough or accessing emergency homeless accommodation. Each of these deaths is a tragedy. I extend my sympathies to the families and friends of those concerned. It is important that the people affected are treated with dignity and respect. All Members will be mindful of such sensitivities.

In order to provide a better understanding, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, and the HSE have jointly commissioned a detailed review of recent deaths in homeless services. It is important that we establish the facts and that we base our response, as policymakers and elected representatives, on the best knowledge and evidence available. This review will build on previous research conducted in this area, including a study published in January 2019 on the mortality of homeless people in the Dublin region.

Separate to this work, the Department of Health has commissioned the Health Research Board to undertake a one-year feasibility study to collect data on deaths among people who were homeless. I have been advised that the research will apply the methodology used to compile the national drug-related deaths index, which is a census of drug-related deaths, including deaths among drug users and those who are alcohol dependent.

The Deputy referred to an increase in homelessness in putting forward this matter for debate. There was an increase of 81 persons who are homeless in the most recent published figures, which are for the month of October. However, it is important to acknowledge the progress being made. The total number of homeless individuals in October 2020 was recorded as 8,737. This is a decrease of 1,777 people on the total recorded in October 2019.

While these homeless figures are still too high, they are down year-on-year by 17%. The most recent data show that family homelessness continued to fall in the past month and is at the lowest level seen since June 2016. It is still vital that we continue to deliver the appropriate measures to ensure all individuals experiencing homelessness are supported into permanent housing solutions while those with complex health and mental health needs are provided with the supports they need.

Engaging with rough sleepers is also essential. This engagement is first and foremost to encourage those rough sleeping to avail of emergency accommodation. Critically, it also allows their health needs to be assessed and provided for. The DRHE outreach team works 365 days per year up to 1 a.m. in supporting rough sleepers to access emergency accommodation. In undertaking this task, the clear and unambiguous approach taken is to work with the individuals to assess their immediate needs and work with them to cease their rough sleeping.

As we move further into the winter months, cold weather arrangements are in place nationally. In the Dublin region, the DRHE, which has responsibility for over 70% of all homeless persons nationally, has assured the Minister that sufficient capacity exists in services to ensure no person should sleep outside for the need of an emergency bed.

I want also to take the opportunity to place on record my gratitude to the staff of our local authorities and to our service delivery partners in the NGO sector. Their work during a difficult operational year, as we have also dealt with Covid-19, has been extraordinary.

Looking forward, the programme for Government includes measures targeted specifically at those experiencing homelessness with complex needs. It commits to the continued expansion of Housing First, and, importantly, to ensuring that health and mental health supports are provided. Housing First is now supporting over 450 former rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation in their own homes. Research is currently under way to support the expansion of the targets for this programme.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has established a high level homelessness task force, which is feeding into the implementation of the programme for Government. The recent deaths in homeless services were specifically discussed at the most recent meeting of the task force in November.

Key to addressing homelessness is an increase in supply. The Government has committed to the increased supply of public, social and affordable homes. We will increase the social housing stock by more than 50,000 with an emphasis on new builds.

I assure Deputy Collins and others in the House of the work being done collectively and collaboratively to address the homelessness issue.

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