Tuesday, 7 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
19. Mr. J. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment if, arising from the assessment of the number of homeless by local authorities in March 1991, he will outline the total number of homeless people in the State; the steps he proposes to take to alleviate the problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Flynn: Full returns from the housing authorities of their assessments at 31 March 1991 of the scale of homelessness to which they may have to respond in their areas are not yet available to the Department.
A Plan for Social Housing outlines the specific measures being taken to strengthen the response to homelessness. Housing authorities have been requested to utilise fully their powers under section 10 of the Housing Act, 1988, to secure accommodation for homeless persons. In order to facilitate this, guidelines on the operation of section 10 have been revised and issued to housing authorities. They introduce more flexible financial arrangements where a voluntary body provides accommodation for homeless people. They also put greater emphasis on the need for formal ongoing liaison on the part of housing authorities with the voluntary bodies and for arrangements to provide an emergency response service.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Will the Minister not agree that it shows no sense of urgency whatsoever that here we are in the sixth week after 31 March and we still do not have reports from local authorities which were due on that date regarding homeless people? Will he not accept that if you are homeless for six weeks it is a very serious matter indeed? Will he explain what steps he has taken to get these reports from local authorities to be able to account to this House for the homeless?
Mr. Flynn: As I have stated, the returns have not been received from all housing authorities. Returns have been received from 11 authorities and there are still 76 outstanding. I do not regard that as acceptable. We have contacted them with a view to getting those returns and we need them, but of course it does not prevent them using section 10 of the 1988 Housing Act for the benefit of the homeless. As I said, I have issued the revised circular to deal with such items as the need to establish formal, ongoing liaison arrangements with the voluntary bodies providing the accommodation. We are also asking for an improvement from local authorities in providing an emergency response for homeless persons and, as a consequence of the review, more flexible financial arrangements are being introduced. Financial contributions can now be made to a body on a regular basis such as monthly or quarterly where that body provide accommodation for homeless persons. We want to use the money that has been available to us for the past couple of years and which was not fully utilised as I explained to the Deputy on a previous occasion. We want to utilise the powers available under section 10. We have reviewed the situation with a view to pointing out to local authorities how better they can exercise that power. The fact that they have not sent in the numbers to us does not prevent them from going ahead now.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Anyone active in local government will know that the position in regard to the homeless is now worse than it has been for several years. What steps has the Minister taken to get these reports from the local authorities which are now six weeks overdue? Would he not agree that the fact that he does not  have the reports already indicates an attitude of “manana” on his part?
Mr. Flynn: In the first instance one has to wait to see if local authorities will respond to the request to carry out the surveys. I understand they have done their work, are correlating the evidence and statistics and will send the information to the Department. I am awaiting this information from 76 authorities and I hope to receive the information in the immediate future. The 1988 Act is quite specific as to what we would like them to do in relation to homelessness. We are hoping that the new guidelines will press them on to utilise fully that power. Then there are increased limits in regard to voluntary housing schemes. This applies also to the accommodation of homeless people. We have increased the grant to 95 per cent of capital expenditure for homeless people and the threshold up to £2,000 per unit for single or double accommodation and up to £25,000 for family accommodation. I understand from the voluntary organisations that this is a major advance.
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