Property Shortage Poses Threat to Homeless Plan

A Government plan to end long-term homelessness by the end of the year will fail unless more private property owners agree to sell or lease homes for social housing, the Homeless Agency has warned.

Cathal Morgan, director of the Homeless Agency, said yesterday the Government’s Pathway to Home policy was in danger of being derailed just as the final details are agreed on how homeless services are to be restructured across Dublin.

Mr Morgan said he believed several factors were causing owners to be reluctant in signing up to the plan, which has attracted €20 million in Government funding.

The agency, which is masterminding a radical shake-up of homeless services in the capital, is planning to close three emergency hostels for homeless people in the city centre and move more homeless people to long-term housing in the suburbs.

The plan involves phasing out 1,000 emergency beds in hostels and bed and breakfasts throughout the greater Dublin area and replacing them with 1,200 long-term tenancies.

The four Dublin local authorities would take over responsibility for assessing and placing homeless people in emergency accommodation from the homeless persons’ unit as part of a decentralisation of homeless services.

The strategy would also see a revamp of the delivery of care and outreach services to homeless people facing mental health, drug- and alcohol-dependency problems.

Up to 2,000 people are experiencing long-term homelessness in Dublin – meaning that they have been without a home for more than six months.

The Homeless Agency sent detailed plans on the reconfiguration of services under the Pathway to Home policy yesterday to statutory and voluntary organisations providing services to the homeless.

Three hostels – Cedar House, Charlemont Street and Bolton Street – are pinpointed for closure in the plan, which notes 362 extra emergency beds have already been decommissioned by Dublin City Council.

Just 200 of the 1,200 houses needed to deliver the Pathway to Home strategy have so far been delivered via social allocations made by the Dublin local authorities.

Without commitments from the private sector, the reconfiguration of homeless services, which is due to start with the closure of Cedar House hostel on September 31st, may have to be delayed.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Morgan said there was an “urgent need” for private property owners to come forward to supply housing for the strategy.

“This policy goal will be in danger unless we can get access to property. We have the schemes and the financing in place, but we need private property owners to come forward urgently,” Mr Morgan said.

“We are acutely aware that there are thousands of homes lying empty across the country, when we are at a crucial point in trying to resolve long-term homelessness in Dublin,” he said.

Mr Morgan said he believed several factors were causing owners to be reluctant in signing up to the plan, which has attracted €20 million in Government funding. Owners may not want homeless people being moved in to their property in case it devalues the property.

Deals are also being delayed due to negotiations between owners and banks involved with Nama. Some properties have been deemed structurally unsuitable. There is also perhaps an expectation that rents will start rising next year, causing owners to hold off, he said.

Mr Morgan said money had been committed by the Government to fund the strategy but what was needed now was access to housing and for property owners to begin to engage with housing bodies. He said the Homeless Agency had made a commitment that no homeless service would be decommissioned until an alternative service was in place for users.

Focus Ireland said last night the agreement to reconfigure homeless services across Dublin was a “historic achievement” that could end long-term homelessness.

“However, we all share the fear that the failure to provide the promised homes threatens not just delivery of the strategy but puts at risk the hard-won partnerships on which it is based. This must not be allowed to happen,” said Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland.

(source: Irish Times)