By Ann Marie Foley - 28 September, 2020
There were 8,702 people in emergency accommodation last month, August 2020, which was a slight decrease on the 8,728 people experiencing homelessness in July. This is according to the latest homelessness figures published last Friday, 25 September.
However, Focus Ireland has warned of “potential increases in the coming months” and is calling on the Government to reintroduce the eviction ban and rent freeze to protect people fully during COVID-19.
The Peter McVerry Trust commented that it was good to see the number of people in homeless services decline in August 2020.
It stated: “Even marginal decreases of 26 as was recorded between July and August this year are hugely important. Stopping the rise, reducing and ultimately keep on reducing the figures, is the path we want.”
The figures show that there were five more adults (6,082) homeless last month, but there were 31 fewer children (2,620) in emergency accommodation.
There was an increase of 29 in the number of homeless people accessing emergency accommodation in July, the first month since early 2020 to see an increase, and charities attributed it to the change in the laws which had stopped evictions during COVID-19 restrictions (see cinews, 1 September).
CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle, stated that there is a big challenge in finding and providing homes for single people. He called on the Government to ensure that Budget 2021 (due to be announced in a few weeks) provides for one-bed homes. He suggested that the Government give incentives such as reducing VAT rates for refurbishment of ‘over-the-shop’ apartments.
Other charities are also looking to Budget 2021 to offer greater supports to address homelessness.
In its submission to the Government, Simon Communities of Ireland stated: “Measures taken during the COVID-19 emergency demonstrated that we can reduce the number of individuals and families forced to enter emergency accommodation, and we can increase capacity to support people experiencing homelessness. If we can do it during an emergency, we can do it long-term.”
The charity pointed out that the measures introduced during the early stages of COVID-19 saw the number of people in homelessness fall 14 per cent from 10,148 in February 2020 to 8,728 in July 2020. However, since some of those special measures and moratoria have been lifted, homelessness has started to grow again.
Simon also called for Budget 2021 to ensure that the Rent Supplement and Housing Assistance Payment reflect market rates for private rental accommodation.
It added that new rules to qualify for rent supplement during COVID-19 should be retained permanently, and that those who have returned to work but are still struggling should receive an emergency needs payment to help with arrears.
In addition, the charity said Budget 2020 allocated €166 million to homelessness services and that will have to be increased in Budget 2021. Likewise, providing more affordable housing should be prioritised and money for this should not be diverted into new spending needs arising from COVID-19.