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When Fine Gael Minister for Housing Simon Coveney gave a commitment that the use of hotels to shelter homeless families would end by 1 July this year, it was a bit unclear how that was going to happen.
On Monday, councillors heard how Dublin City Council plans to stick to the promise – but not all were convinced that the plan is going to work.
The head of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson, told councillors on the housing committee that the council plans to move homeless families from hotels into three different types of accommodation.
Some will be offered places in four or five planned “family hubs” or small-scale hostels for families, similar to one run by the housing association Respond in Drumcondra, which has cooking and laundry facilities, and play areas.
Others may get spaces in the under-construction “rapid-build” units in the city. And the plan is for others to be moved into homes on the homeless housing assistance payment (HAP) scheme.
“They still won’t be in permanent accommodation unless we can get them into HAP units, but they will be in family hubs with all that added value,” she said.
Will It Work?
But some councillors queried whether that would all be enough.
As of 25 December 2016, there were 778 families in hotels. (That was up from 466 families in hotels in December 2015.)
There are 131 new “rapid-build” units that are due to be finished by the second quarter of this year, spread across sites on St Helena’s Drive, Cherry Orchard, Mourne Road in Drimnagh, and Belcamp.
Dublin City Council Executive Manager for Housing Tony Flynn said that the Mourne Road and St Helena’s Drive sites are moving fast. Cherry Orchard will probably be done in late June or early July, he said.
He wasn’t so confident about Belcamp being done on time, although the contractor says it will be. “The proof is in the pudding,” he said.
Other local authorities have also set targets, he said.
Even after some of the people now living in hotels have found accommodation in rapid-build homes or “family hubs”, that still leaves hundreds who would need to find landlords willing to take tenants on HAP – something that has been an issue.
Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said she has constituents who are struggling with that even if they’re been cleared to be part of the HAP scheme by the council. “What I’m getting from a lot of people who have been assessed for HAP is that they literally cannot find anywhere,” she said at the meeting.
There are people approved for the HAP scheme six or eight months ago who haven’t found anywhere, she said.
Gilliland went to homeless services with one single mother searching for a place on HAP. “The officer told her to start looking outside Dublin,” she said.
The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive moved 800 homeless people into accommodation on the HAP scheme last year, Gleeson said.
There have been problems finding apartment and homes for single people, but not so much for families. “We have a target of 1,200 this year.”
But Gleeson admitted that there might be issues once the HAP programme, which is now only for homeless people, expands later this year to include those who aren’t homeless – which will create even more competition for scare houses and apartments.
Still, she says, “Homeless HAP and HAP will resolve or provide a solution for a lot of this.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithi Doolan on Tuesday raised concerns about that plan.
“The more I think of it, it’s almost … you don’t want people in hotels, but if you just suddenly take them out of the hotels, you’re going to create a huge crisis, you’re moving the crisis,” he said.
On the one hand, there’s the concern that the hotel rooms emptied by this effort will just fill up again with other homeless people, said Doolan, who chairs the council’s housing committee.
And it’s an overheated private-rented sector that people on HAP will be looking to find accommodation in. “You’ll have more people fishing in a very small pond,” he said. “We’re putting them into a solution that’s already under strain.”
Doolan says that, if you scratch beneath the surface, the procurement process is stopping Dublin City council from moving at speed on building, and that’s what really needs to be tackled. “There’s no sense of urgency in procurement.”