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Focus Ireland fears surge in homelessness under new legislation

By Ann Marie Foley - 07 August, 2020

June was the fifth consecutive month in which the number of people experiencing homelessness dropped, but Focus Ireland has called on the Government to ensure its new law keeps vulnerable renters safe from eviction.

Focus Ireland fears there may be a surge in homelessness due to weaknesses in new legislation to extend protection to renters in the private rental sector who have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Measures such as the moratorium on evictions and rent freezes have evidently worked as the number of homeless has reduced significantly since March,” said Mike Allen, director of advocacy, Focus Ireland.

He said that while Focus Ireland welcomes what Minister Darragh O’Brien has done, and understands the time pressure he was under, the new law does not help stop evictions in many cases.

“Rent arrears and rent levels are important, but by concentrating entirely on these issues the legislation neglects the largest single cause of family homelessness – evictions to allow landlords to sell up or to replace the renting family with a member of their own family,” he said.

The national housing and homeless charity is worried that a surge in homelessness could coincide with a new wave of COVID-19, and homeless services across Ireland will struggle not to be overwhelmed.

“The last five months have proved that the first defence against the virus is a stable home,” said Mike Allen. “We are deeply concerned that, when these protections simply end [on 1 August], we will return to the scale of evictions we were previously seeing plus having to deal with the cases which were postponed while the protections were in place,” he explained.

Homeless figures had passed 10,000 in January 2020 but in June they were down to 8,699, which is 177 less than in May. Of the 8,699 people accessing emergency accommodation in June, 6,046 were adults and 2,653 dependents. There were 1,159 families in emergency accommodation.

Focus Ireland welcomed the new High Level Task Force established by Minister O’Brien shortly after his appointment, of which it is a member, and called on the Minister to work closely with the Task Force to monitor the effect of the new legislation over the coming months and bring forward further protections for renters if the situation deteriorates.

Focus Ireland also welcomed the record number of people who had exited homelessness over the last six months. During the pandemic, Focus Ireland has been working with local authorities to take advantage of opportunities for people to move out of homelessness. The charity stated that it will be a big challenge to keep up this progress as the housing market returns to its previous dysfunctional ‘normal’.

Commenting on the figures released on 31 July 2020, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, said, “Despite the increase in exits from homelessness and the reduction in the numbers accessing emergency accommodation in June, the number of people and families in homelessness is simply too high. One of my main priorities as Minister will be to accelerate the numbers of people exiting homelessness and to reduce the time that people spend in emergency accommodation.” He added that increasing social and affordable housing will be key and increasing the levels of supports to households with complex needs.

The Homeless Quarterly Progress Report for Quarter 2 was also released, showing that 1,467 adults and their dependents exited homelessness into tenancies. During the first six months of the year, a total of 3,033 people left homelessness. This is a 7 per cent increase on the numbers recorded at the same point in 2019.

The Quarterly Progress Report is prepared by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, based on quarterly performance reports submitted by the nine regional lead authorities responsible for the administration of homeless services at local level.

The Minister stated that the June homeless figures are the lowest since August 2016. He recently launched a ‘Call for Housing 2020’, for property owners and developers with vacant properties to make them available for social housing. The July Stimulus will give an extra €40 million to local authorities to refurbish homes and bring them back into the social housing stock.

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