3 Key Homelessness Prevention Demands

The Simon Communities of Ireland are calling on the Minister for Housing to commit to three key homelessness prevention demands, in order to stop homelessness before it starts for families and individuals across Ireland.

1. A comprehensive homelessness prevention strategy and ring-fenced funding in budget 2021 to stop homelessness before it starts.

The Programme for Government states that preventing homelessness is a major priority for the Government. To meet this ambition, the Government should develop a new and comprehensive Homelessness Prevention Strategy, to run over the course of the life-time of its term.

This Strategy should be formulated in consultation with homelessness services and engage government departments and agencies beyond those that are typically involved in provision of homelessness services.

A key measure in any homelessness prevention strategy is establishing a ring-fenced, designated funding line for prevention work should be developed under Section 10 of the Housing Act 1988. In particular, support should be provided to expand prevention services and ensure additional ‘support teams’ are in place in each local authority to engage with cases at immediate risk of homelessness. Initiatives that reach out to communities should also be included; for example, through schools and doctors’ surgeries, to provide timely advice and information where the pressures that can lead to homelessness may be detected. Youth homelessness should form a designated focus of this work, particularly for young people who engage with care services, and those leaving the care system.

The strategy should ensure that policy is informed by a full understanding of the scale of homelessness in Ireland, by tackling the causes of hidden homelessness and circumstances where people are living in precarious accommodation.

A comprehensive Prevention Strategy must engage an all-of-government approach which identifies individuals or families who are currently experiencing hidden homelessness, or are at risk of homelessness. Preventing homelessness must be a priority across public services, for public servants in education, the care system, the welfare system and the health system, as well as those mostly directly involved in homelessness services in local authorities. Just as the entire public service was leveraged in the national effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, a government-wide Homelessness Prevention Strategy must entail action being taken across the public service.

2. Ensure that 50% of all new social housing are one and two bed units, providing an average of 7,500, one and two bed, social homes each year. This will develop the housing infrastructure we need to stop homelessness before it starts.

Capital expenditure to build affordable, social and cost rental homes must be protected as it represents the best long-term solution to the current homelessness crisis.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) estimate that we require 30-35,000 homes delivered each year. The construction, make up and access to this housing stock will be critical. In 2019, the Social Housing Needs Assessment figures showed that 14,000 households were added to the list in that year. This suggests that the Budget must make provision for 15,000- 20,000 units of social and affordable housing each year.

There is a particular requirement for one and two bedroom units at a level that meets the yearly assessment of housing need and reduce the levels of long-term homelessness. While family homelessness has fallen significantly during the early pandemic periods, single people in homelessness has not followed that trend, and instead has continued to rise. In July 2020 there were 4,413 single people in emergency accommodation in Ireland, an annual increase of 8.69% on July 2019.

The chronic lack of affordable one and two-bedroom properties across the country is regularly demonstrated in our research series Locked Out of the Market. The most recent analysis of the private rental market by the Simon Community in June 2020 found that 2.2% of the almost 3000 properties on daft.ie in the study areas came within standard of discretionary HAP limits for single people. Only 48 properties came within standard HAP limits for couples.

To achieve the level of one and two-bedroom units required, Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies have to be supported to transition away from ‘turnkey’ procurement and proactively develop one and two-bedroom homes.

The recession triggered by Covid-19 has led to unprecedented use of public funds to stimulate and support the economy. The Covid-19 economic crisis has now presented an opportunity to release funds for tackling the homelessness crisis. Priority should be given to the building of social and affordable housing in terms of the use of stimulus funding, both national and EU stimulus funding, during 2021.

3. Increase protection for renters to ensure that tenants cannot be evicted into homelessness.

Homelessness is a crisis in this country, and it is a crisis in each person’s life who is experiencing homelessness. Evictions are a key driver of homelessness. The termination of tenancies leaves many individuals and families with no feasible housing option and in recent years many have consistently end up in emergency accommodation as a result, sometimes for extended periods.

The Simon Communities of Ireland believe that no individual or family should be evicted into homelessness. Tenancy law must be reformed so that a tenancy cannot be terminated if emergency accommodation is the only option available to that tenant. In effect, this means evictions must be unlawful where they will lead to homelessness. Enhanced homelessness prevention measures, such as housing support officers and outreach teams in local authorities will assist individuals whose tenancy is being terminated to avoid becoming homeless. A tenant should not be evicted until housing support teams from local authorities can find alternative, sustainable accommodation where a tenant being evicted is at risk of homelessness. This change in the law would truly stop homelessness before it starts, by intervening at that critical point where so many individual and families have been failed by our housing system before.

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that a moratorium on evictions is possible where there is a pressing public need on the basis of a crisis. The homelessness crisis is of equivalent magnitude in the lives of those impacted. A ban on evictions that leads to homelessness is both a necessary and desirable measure to stop homelessness before it starts.

If you support the Simon Communities of Ireland’s three key demands to stop homelessness before it starts, please let the Minister for Housing know here.

If you want to learn more about the solutions that are needed to stop homelessness before it starts, you can read our Pre-Budget Submission here.