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Who’s responsible for monitoring and enforcing standards in homeless services?
It’s a question that has been raised a few times – usually after the occasional media flare-ups about the strict rules that homeless families in hotels have had to abide by, or their lack of tenancy rights.
At Dublin City Council’s housing committee meeting last week, independent Councillor Mannix Flynn said it was time for a report on the health effects on families of being stuck in bed and breakfasts and hotels. “We need HIQA to go in here and evaluate the entire process,” he said.
Daithí Downey of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said he was on the same page, but that, as the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) isn’t the regulatory body for homeless services, there isn’t a platform for him to ask it to do that.
“It does raise a much broader argument about the regulatory environment in which all forms of homeless services operate, but again that is a matter for national government,” said Downey.
In fact, Downey said that Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DHRE) and Dublin City Council have already asked for HIQA to become the body that oversees homeless services. Many times. “We have written on a number of occasions to make that position clear,” he said.
Since HIQA has not taken on that role, as Flynn sees it, that means there’s no oversight.
Downey took issue with that, the council and DHRE maintain standards and carry out surprise inspections of emergency accommodation, he said.
Once again, councillors also discussed the question of whether or not families were making themselves homeless – because of the impression that they would then get social housing within a couple of years, rather than a couple of decades.
It’s an issue that has come up several times before, including in an April letter from Dublin City Council Chief Owen Keegan to former Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, about the now-lifted writ reserving 50 percent of available social housing for homeless people.
Sinn Fein Councillor Janice Boylan said she gets people asking whether they should become homeless.
“I tell them at every single opportunity that no, that’s not the option for you,” she said. It might help councillors to make the case, though, if they had more details of how long it takes for people in emergency accommodation to be housed, she said.
Fianna Fail’s Paul McAuliffe, meanwhile, says he gets some people in dire situations who don’t want to get homeless accommodation as they feel like they’ll get housed faster if they stay put, and are higher up the housing list. “That idea of helping people manage their expectation on the two lists is really important,” he said.
Downey told councillors that it’s really tough for those who become homeless at the moment, and few seem to be doing that out of choice.
“I think on that particular query when we look at our own data, the vast majority of households are coming to us from household insecurity. There are very very few households that are voluntarily presenting themselves to endure homeless services for a prolonged period,” he said.
After all, there are 320 families now looking for hotel rooms – which the council has agreed to pay for – who can’t find any. “Those families are having to, in effect, identify that accommodation for themselves. That is not an easy place to be in,” Downey said.
… on the List
There are still more than 5,000 people on the social housing list, who have yet to send in their housing need assessments to the council, said Elaine O’Kelly, assistant staff officer of Housing and Community Services. (That means they risk losing their place on the years-long list, if they don’t prove they need their spot.) Those on the social housing list who haven’t yet sent in their forms are encouraged to do so, she told councillors.