15th April 2014
– Simon Communities in Ireland spoke today before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht on the General Scheme of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. The charity called for action to address the growing crisis for those on the social housing list; the protection of tenants currently in social housing and the prioritisation of people who are homeless.
Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities, said that we are in the middle of a housing crisis.
“As the numbers of people becoming homeless increases, there are nearly 90,000 people on local authority waiting lists. Furthermore, rent supplement levels are proving insufficient to meet the asking price for many, if not all, rental properties. We need to find more options and better, more sustainable ways to house people in the longer term.”
Simon Communities in Ireland are the largest provider of homeless accommodation and support services in the country and said that they broadly welcomed the Bill, particularly the legal provision which will enable the roll out of the Housing Assistance Payment.
Niamh Randall said that the charity especially welcomed the transfer of Rent Supplement from the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment, Community and local Government, where Housing Policy lies, as a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) which this Bill will enable.
“We have waited many years for this development which will remove many of the barriers currently being experienced by people in receipt of rent supplement; the most significant being that people in receipt of HAP will now be able to take up employment which they were prevented from doing while on Rent Supplement.”
“There are a number of issues with the Bill which we raised with the Committee today. In particular we highlighted the need for a national extension of the Rent Supplement Initiative, currently this operates in Dublin only, and the development of a similar national scheme within HAP. This would allow for a higher housing payment for people who are long term homeless to support a move into private rented accommodation at market rents.”
The Simon Communities also called for the Bill to establish a national Social Rental Agency which would rent properties from the private rented sector (at market rates) and sub-let them to long term homeless people who have significant support needs. This model has the advantage of providing homeless people with complex needs with a social landlord and removes perceived risks for the superior landlord related to fears of non-payment rent, anti-social behaviour etc.
However, the charity warned that that there should not be any impediments to meeting the Government’s target of ending long-term homelessness by 2016. The prolonged economic crisis means more people are at risk of homelessness, more people are becoming homeless and more people are turning to the Simon Communities for support. To achieve an end to long term homelessness and rough sleeping, action is required on three fronts - access to housing; access to support in housing; and action to prevent homelessness.
Niamh Randall said that for many people, social welfare/social housing is the safety net standing between them and homelessness.
“If a person is evicted, alternative accommodation must be provided so more people do not end up in emergency homeless accommodation or sleeping rough. Prevention and early intervention services working with those who are vulnerable and at risk are critical to ensure people do not become homeless in the first place. The Simon Communities are very supportive of the Government’s commitment to end long term homelessness and rough sleeping by 2016 and firmly believe that with sufficient resources, political will and national direction this can be achieved. In fact, it must be achieved; people who are homeless must be prioritised.”
Niamh Randall added that the Simon Communities have seen an increase of over 24% in the number of people turning to them for help.
“Simon is well beyond the point of doing more with less. We can and do provide support to over 5000 individuals and families currently homeless or at risk of homelessness. Nearly 90,000 people on the local authority waiting lists, it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure people in need have access to housing so they do not become homeless.”
For media queries and interview requests
Helen McCormack, Simon Communities of Ireland
Tel: 01 47 27 202/ 085 8065141 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Simon Community:
The Simon Communities throughout Ireland provide the best possible care, accommodation and Support for people experiencing homelessness and those at risk. Together, with people who are homeless, we tackle the root causes, promote innovative responses and urge the government to fulfil their commitments. Simon delivers support and service to over 5,000 individuals and families throughout Ireland who experience – or are at risk of – homelessness every year. The Simon Communities of Ireland is an affiliation of local Communities in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, the Midlands, the Mid West, the North West and the South East.
Services range from
• Housing provision, tenancy sustainment & settlement services, housing advice & information services helping people to make the move out of homelessness & working with households at risk;
• Specialist health & treatment services addressing some of the issues which may have contributed to homeless occurring or may be a consequence;
• Emergency accommodation & support providing people with a place of welcome, warmth & safety;
• Soup runs & rough sleeper teams who are often the first point of contact for people sleeping rough.