Speech by Minister Murphy at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust 2016 Annual Report

Published on Monday, 06 Nov 2017
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Croke Park Conference Centre

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me here today to the launch of the 2016 Annual Report of the Peter McVerry Trust.

The McVerry Trust is one of the leading homeless charities – it does incredibly valuable work, in very challenging circumstances.   And it does it with an energy, and determination, and enthusiasm for implementing solutions that work. Solutions that will genuinely meet not just the needs, but the aspirations, of those they care for. These are not simple problems that the Trust is confronting - homelessness, drug misuse, social disadvantage.

Thank you for doing what you do, and for doing it with such compassion. Thank you Fr Peter for your vision and ambition, which you have doggedly pursued for almost 35 years now.

During 2016 the Peter McVerry Trust increased its bed capacity by almost 50%, demonstrating both its commitment and ability to respond in times of crisis, to those in need of their support. By the end of 2016 the Trust managed a portfolio of approximately 200 apartments – this number should reach 250 by the end of this year. The organisation and its achievements are a credit to you Father Peter. And to the Board, to the many employees, and of course the always optimistic and always enthusiastic leadership of Pat Doyle, your CEO.

Collaboration & Cooperation

We are dealing with a crisis in homelessness – a crisis which has a number of different fronts, which must be tackled simultaneously. We will only be successful if we tackle this crisis together – if we see ourselves as part of the solution, working together, collaborating. My Department, you, other similar organisations, the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, local authorities, the HSE, the Department of Social Protection.

At the Housing Summit in September I announced the setting up of a new Inter-Agency Group to coordinate the government response to homeless ness between the relevant Departments and Agencies. That work has begun. But we shouldn’t overlook the need for all of us to make sure that we are cooperating and coordinating our efforts. That is easier said than done - people have competing interests in this space, competing views and visions.

But we can’t let that get in the way of our first responsibility, which is obviously to the people who need our help the most. We saw this very effectively with Storm Ophelia – and the good work that was done in preparation over the weekend, and then on the Monday itself, as teams went out to help people in to secure and safe accommodation. But of course this type of cooperation isn’t just seen in emergencies – in fact it’s always happening. The new properties acquired by the Trust, for the most part were acquired with funding that was made available through my Department – evidence of government working effectively together with Approved Housing Bodies, to address housing needs.

In addition to capital funding for properties, in 2016, the Trust received almost €11m in State funding towards the provision of services. And you raised your largest fundraising income to date, some €6.4m, a reflection of your reputation and trust across society. We need strong and effective collaboration between government and others, including the interest and generosity of our citizens, to tackle the current homelessness crisis. It’s important to say that the Trust, through Pat Doyle’s leadership, is at the forefront when it comes to leading and implementing the kind of partnership approaches that our citizens expect from us.

Budget

We’ve always had a challenge in dealing with homeless individuals, predominantly men, who have suffered from mental health and/or addiction problems. We’ve always had a challenge, like many other cities and countries, in trying to properly and fully address these complex social issues. Thankfully our rate of homelessness in Ireland compared to other countries is low by international standards.

That’s a good thing. But it’s also a good thing, that we don’t think that’s good enough. So in the recent budget we increased our funding for homelessness by almost 20%. Put in the context of the year for which this annual report has been published, next year will see a 66% increase in homeless funding on the 2016 provision. There are two things to say about this.

The first is that, ideally, you’d be getting less funding support from government, because the problem would be getting better by now. But it’s not, not yet – we are still not building enough houses, across the economy, to alleviate the different problems that are being experienced by people in different situations across the country, and which represent themselves most acutely and unfortunately in people becoming homeless and then accessing emergency supports. But that too is changing, and things are going to ramp up considerably next year, as they have this year. The second thing to say is that - and you all know this well - it’s not necessarily about how much we spend, but about how we spend it.

Housing First

I met recently with Dr. Sam Tsemberis to discuss the Housing First model, which has been so successful in other countries. I have read a great deal about it, and indeed it was probably the first thing that Pat and Fr Peter raised with me when we met in my first week on the job. It almost seems obvious as a solution, but that wasn’t the case when it was first introduced, and it has needed its own pioneers here in Ireland, which it has in the McVerry Trust. The Rebuilding Ireland target is to triple housing first in Dublin to 300 - this is being vigorously pursued. It of course requires the building of more single accommodation by local authorities and Housing bodies. At the Housing Summit in September I announced a target of 100 tenancies in major urban areas outside Dublin. To drive and oversee this, a Director of Housing First will be put in place by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive shortly.

Other measures

And there are other things that we need to do of course. As we announced at the Housing Summit. We need to do more around prevention. We need the new exit coordinators, which were also announced at the Summit. We need to roll out the HAP placefinder service nationally. We need to make sure that “substantial refurbishment” is not being used to get around the rent inflation caps - which are working – and so a definition is needed. And we need to have landlords notify the Residential Tenancies Board when they serve a notice to termination, so that we can put supports in place early – like Homeless Housing Assistance Payment, or placefinder support – so that people ideally do not have to access emergency accommodation services.

Can we get landlords to sell their properties with tenants in situ to other landlords? Perhaps, but only by way of an incentive. We can’t force people to be landlords – we need a private rental market that has more landlords entering it, not less, or else this crisis will get much worse – and so we have to find a balance. And I believe with some of the recent changes, that we are finding that balance. But ultimately it comes back, as always, to supply.

Supply

Next year the supply of newly built social housing homes will almost double. Roughly 7900 built, acquired, or long-term leased homes will provide secure accommodation for people on the social housing list or in emergency accommodation. Every working day of the week almost 100 new tenancies will be supported. And on the private side we are anticipating a significant ramp-up in new homes – because of the almost 50% increase in planning permissions and construction commencement notices that we have seen this year.

Every new home built, no matter whom it is for, helps another person facing another challenge when it comes to housing – the renter; the young family saving for a deposit; the adult still at home; the person with a disability or health need who need to be accommodated in their community; the elderly individual looking for something smaller and more manageable; the family in a hub or hotel; the man or woman in emergency accommodation.

Family Homelessness and Progress

And just to touch briefly on families and children in emergency accommodation. Yes, the number of children in emergency accommodation in September increased. One child is too many. But we don’t treat children separately from their parents – we treat the family as a unit – and we find homes for the family. So it is important that we recognise that in September in Dublin, for the second month in a row – and the first time in three years – we exited more families into secure and sustainable homes than entered our emergency accommodation services.

Unfortunately, families and individuals continue to present to our emergency accommodation services. There are still 690 families in hotels – we still haven’t reached our target of getting these families out and into more secure accommodation. But we are significantly down – 20% down - on the high point in March earlier this year, when 871 families were in hotels and B&Bs. Nationally the number of families accessing emergency accommodation services is slightly up, however the overall trend is also downwards. The rate of increase between July and September (1.8%) nationally is much lower than the average for the previous 3 months (4.8%).

Thankfully we have 5 new family hubs in Dublin and a further 3 new hubs in Limerick and Cork coming on board from our expanding hubs programme by the end of the year; at least 180 families will be accommodated in these hubs. We will continue to move families out of hotels and into hubs.  More importantly, we will move families into homes as well. Hubs are better than hotels, but they are only a first response. In the first six months of this year over 2,000 exits from homelessness were achieved, so we are on course to well exceed the over 3,000 exits achieved in 2016. And a further 570 people have been prevented from becoming homeless since the beginning of this year. Again, that’s 2570 additional people who would be homeless now, today, if not for your your hard work, your determination and your care.

So while the numbers are again very disappointing – no one denies that, no one thinks otherwise, and no one is trying to paint a picture other than the stark reality that we face – we are seeing some signs of progress and that is to be welcomed. Some of the things that we are doing are working –and so we need to work on those solutions together.

Standards of accommodation

You will be aware of the public focus put recently on standards in private rental accommodation. It’s not a new focus for government – we have been working towards new solutions and protections for quite some time. It’s equally important that we ensure a robust and appropriate set of standards when it comes to emergency accommodation. The DRHE is finalising a draft National Quality Standards Framework for emergency accommodation and I look forward to receiving that when its complete.  I understand that the Trust, along with other NGO, have worked closely with the DRHE on these draft standards. Thank you for your no doubt valuable contribution to this piece of work.

Conclusion

Winter is coming and later this week I will announce our Winter-ready campaign. Of course an essential element of this will be what we are going to do to protect our rough sleepers. As I’ve already announced, there will be an additional 200 emergency beds in place in time. But we will have to be vigilant and make sure that anything that needs to be done for people sleeping rough over this period, actually gets done.

In conclusion, I’d just like to again thank all the staff and volunteers in the Trust who work tirelessly towards making a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable in our communities. We can only do this together, with your help. And your work is making a difference, to many, many people – thousands of them. I’ll do everything I can to see that it makes an even bigger difference, this year and next.

Thank You.