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Simon’s 10 Point Plan in Response to the Homelessness Emergency
The Simon Communities believe that the implementation of the 10 point plan outlined below would lead to a significant increase in the number of people exiting homelessness and would help prevent many people from becoming homeless. This crisis is a national crisis affecting urban and rural areas. It needs national responses that are driven nationally but locally implemented. Homelessness is the most acute form of social housing need and so homeless people must be prioritised.
1. Temporary Increase in Emergency Provision: To deal with the immediate rough sleeping crisis we need an increase in emergency beds in appropriate settings with support especially in those areas where all emergency beds are full and people have no choice but to sleep on the streets. This should be a short term measure required only until an adequate supply of housing linked to the necessary supports is made available for people currently on the streets or in emergency accommodation. Our experience is that when we get housing units for people in shelters or on the streets rough sleeper figures decline.
2. Adequate Funding: The Government must reappraise the upfront investment required to generate the flow of housing and the supports so that people who have been homeless can access sustainable housing. Funding cannot be diverted away from emergency accommodation given the increase in demand for the services and the lack of appropriate housing with support for people to move on to. The HSE budget for homelessness must be increased to facilitate the provision of support in housing which is critical to a housing lead approach.
Address issues in the Private Rented Sector
Immediate issues which must be addressed
3. Increase Rent Supplement limits: The limit/cap on rent supplement is too low for the current rental market. We urgently need an increase in rent supplement levels. At a very minimum people who are long term homeless must be treated as a special category and enabled to avail of higher maximum rent limits. We need to implement the Rent Supplement Initiative and the Families Protocol, currently only in operation in Dublin, nationally. Community Welfare Officers need clear guidance on the use of discretion and they need to be empowered to actually use this discretion when there is a risk of homelessness or undue hardship.
4. Introduce Rent Control/Certainty: We would like to see rent control/rent certainty within tenancies to protect people from rapidly rising rents with limited security of tenure. The National Economic Social Council (NESC) in a, as yet unpublished, report discussed by Dublin City Council recently argues that a stable sector, with strong tenancy security, would be attractive to landlords because it creates the long-term demand for rental housing and tenants. They also query some of the methodology used by the consultants who undertook the report for the PRTB.
5. Introduce and Resource Social Rental Agencies: Need to implement models nationally e.g. Cork Rentals which is based on a three way relationship between the landlord, tenant and services provider. This model is very effective in other parts of Europe. The Pilot Cost Rental Model announced in the Social Housing Strategy will allow the housing provider raise finance to provide accommodation and charge rents that are sufficient to cover both capital costs and ongoing maintenance and management costs.
Ensure adequate Housing Supply and Provision
6. Urgently increase housing supply: We need an urgent increase in housing supply both public and private. The Social Housing Investment announced in Budget 2015 and in the Social Housing Strategy is welcome but it is likely to be will take 2 years to before significant progress is made towards achieving the overall target of delivering 35,000 new units by 2020.
Support Approved Housing Bodies (AHB)/Housing Associations to access finance: AHB’s need to be supported to act quickly when opportunities arise. Mechanisms must be explored to improve access to finance for Approved Housing Bodies e.g. review and revision of the Capital Advanced Leasing Scheme (CALF) to make it more financially viable and to remove barriers to accessing finance through the Housing Finance Agency. The Capital Assistance Scheme must be resourced especially for special needs groups including people who are homeless. We welcome commitments in the Social Housing Strategy to support the development of a more effective system of funding for AHBs , to review the current system, taking account the views of various stakeholder. These commitments need to be conducted as a matter of urgency.
Immediate action on NAMA commitments: NAMA need to deliver a social dividend. We welcome the expansion of a NAMA special purpose vehicle, however this needs to come on stream immediately as the slow pace delivery to date of NAMA properties is a problem. The Implementation Plan on homelessness aim to have 15% of NAMA properties ring-fenced for vulnerable groups.
7. Do more with existing stock and voids: We need to make better use of existing stock and bring voids (empty units) back up to standard and into use. We welcome the multi annual planned programme of Local Authority stock refurbishment committed to in the Social Housing Strategy and the plans to link future funding to the measured performance of local authorities in their ability to return vacant units to use and to put in place on-going maintenance programmes to ensure targets are met.
Clear targets need to be set from the outset and local authorities need to meet their targets in terms of renovating voids. They also need to develop partnerships with Housing Associations/Approved Housing Bodies to bring these properties into use. Within this it is important to make provision for single person units which are currently in short supply.
8. Improve allocations policies for people who are homeless and introduce ring fencing: Local Authorities must be more proactive in relation to housing people who are homeless. The DoE have issued a letter to this effect to Housing Authorities but Ministerial direction may be required. This is not addressed in the Social Housing Strategy. Within all social housing developments, general needs and special needs, there must be ring fencing for people moving out of homelessness. However, this is not addressed in the Social Housing Strategy.
9. Provide Support in Housing for people moving on from homelessness and people at risk of homelessness - Funding: Funding must be allocated to support work with vulnerable households once they have moved into social housing e.g. Support to Live Independently (SLI), intensive case management and assertive community treatment services associated with Housing Led Initiatives for people with complex needs being rehoused. This investment ensures better quality of life for the tenant but also increases the stability of the tenancy. - Health and Social Care Support: Drug and Alcohol services, mental health services, general health services etc. need to be flexible and adequately resourced to ensure the relevant and appropriate supports are provided.
10. Resource prevention and early intervention services working with people at risk of homelessness
- It is essential that there are specific resources allocated for prevention and early intervention services as such supports are more cost effective in the longer term. This can be done through Section 10 funding and other mechanisms.
- Information and Advice Services: More funding is required to provide Information and Advice services to households struggling to pay bills and remain in their home.
- Age Related Social Welfare: Cuts to welfare payments for young people, especially those that are homeless or at risk of homelessness must be reversed. Discretion of CWO’s needs to be applied in cases for people under-25 with no assumptions that young people can fall back on family and remain in the family home.
 Dublin is the only region where an official rough sleeper count is undertaken