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Simon Community NI Draft Programme for Government Consultation Response – Summary

29 July 2016

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Homelessness in Northern Ireland 

Homelessness in Northern Ireland is a growing problem, and there are many reasons why people find themselves homeless. There is no one single causation factor, and by this measure, there is no single solution. 

Proportionately, Northern Ireland has the highest levels of homelessness in the UK with early 20,000 households – not people – presenting as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive last year. There are no figures on how many people are affected. 39,000 people are on the Social Housing Waiting List and roughly the same number contacted the Simon Community NI Freephone helpline last year for help and support.

Draft Programme for Government Framework: Overview Commentary

Ending homelessness requires a cross departmental approach, which can transcend the bureaucracy and limitations of individual government departments. It is for this reason that Simon Community NI supports the outcomes-based approach. However, we would emphasise the difficulty of fully engaging with this process with the necessary details that will follow with the publication of the Department Action Plans.

A key concern for Simon Community NI is that the draft framework does not compel collaborative cross-departmental working, or offer any detail on how this can be achieved without significant legislative change and additional resource.

Commentary on Outcomes

Simon Community NI wishes to express in the strongest terms the need for the inclusion of an outcome which relates to the right of every citizen to a safe and secure home, in line with the framework premise of improving wellbeing for all.

Simon Community NI believes it is incumbent upon the new government to prioritise ending homelessness, particularly given the recent report by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that stated, “The Committee is concerned about the significant rise in homelessness in the State party, particularly in England and Northern Ireland”.

Proposal: Simon Community NI is urging government in the strongest terms to include the following Indicator: 

“Reduce homelessness year on year with the ultimate goal of ending it.”

Commentary on Measures

At present, the extent of homelessness in Northern Ireland is unknown due to the unknown number of people living in “hidden homelessness”, which includes people (and families) staying with friends, in B&Bs, in their cars and sleeping rough. Without any real metric or baseline study to ascertain the extent of homelessness in Northern Ireland, it is very difficult to measure any improvements in the current situation.

It is therefore essential that a Northern Ireland-wide study on the extent of homelessness is undertaken; to capture a snapshot of the current status quo, and provide a baseline upon which the Executive should measure progress annually.

Proposal: Simon Community NI believes this baseline study should be conducted and reviewed annually to measure progress against the proposed Indicator to “reduce homelessness”. We propose the following additional measurement:

“The number of people and families who are homeless and/or on the housing waiting list.”

Strategic Recommendations

The new Programme for Government should:

  1. Contain a longer term commitment to ending homelessness in Northern Ireland, clearly referenced in an additional indicator. 
  2. Have explicit and measurable targets set to end homelessness by 2021 with the right preventions, responses and solutions. 
  3. Instruct the development and delivery of a properly resourced, time-bound inter-departmental government strategy with the clear priority to end homelessness. 
  4. Create a new role of a Homeless ‘Champion’ with authority to operate cross-departmentally. 

Simon Community NI believes that it is possible to end homelessness here. It requires political commitment, a properly thought out and resourced strategy and the will to make it succeed. We are keen to work with government to make that happen. 

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