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DfC Housing Bulletin January-March 2016 – Our Views

18 August 2016

Simon Community Ending Homelessness 300X134

This week, the Department for Communities (DfC) published a report on the housing situation in Northern Ireland from January – March 2016. 

It stated that 4,350 households presented as homeless in Northern Ireland during the period. While this figure is not surprising, given that almost 20,000 households presented as homeless during 2015, it does highlight a problem with current method of recording homelessness figures, and the lack of clarity around the actual number of people experiencing homelessness. 

What is a household? Is it a mum and three children? Is it a couple? Is it a lone person? Is it a family of six? By registering households rather than individuals, we remain ignorant as to the number of people affected by homelessness in Northern Ireland. We have no gauge as to the volume of vulnerable adults and children impacted by the lack of security created by housing instability. 

The second most common reason given by those presenting as homeless to the Housing Executive during this period was ‘a sharing breakdown or family dispute’. This scenario clearly impacts more than one person in a family unit, and yet by failing to register the number of individuals involved in each circumstance, we are unable to provide the support required to manage the situation and establish an appropriate housing solution. 

A full and in-depth Government funded study of the true extent of homelessness is urgently required in Northern Ireland if we are to be able to adequately respond to, and address the issue. The pending Programme for Government also needs to acknowledge the homelessness problem in Northern Ireland and add an additional indicator to tackle it. As a provider of homeless services, we have to plan ahead and allocate resources as per the predicted level of demand. It is impossible to forecast the level of user demand we might experience, if we do not have an awareness of the number of people affected by homelessness. A ‘household’ could be a family of 2 or a family of 6 – the difference has a major impact of the level of assistance and resources required to support that family. 

We cannot end homelessness if we do not fully realise the volume of people it affects, and we do not have targeted cross-departmental government support.