DÁIL SPEECH ON CHILD HOMELESSNESS

I echo the comments of my colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett. Three years ago, I met the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, and highlighted my concern at the time at the inappropriate accommodating of homeless children in hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts and at the lack of action by the Government in tackling the crisis. At that time, I also met the Children’s Rights Alliance regarding the inclusion of children experiencing homelessness in its report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. That summer, during the week of 24 to 30 August 2015, there were a shocking 707 homeless families and 1,496 homeless children but by the week of 21 to 27 May 2018, in the most recent figures made available, those numbers had jumped dramatically to 1,724 homeless families with 3,826 homeless children.

Shame on Fine Gael, shame on Fianna Fáil and shame on the private landlords for commodifying housing and pushing such huge numbers of families and children into homelessness. We know that rising and unaffordable rents are one of the main causal factors of family homelessness and yet nothing real has been done to address this. The previous Government spoke about measures such as rent caps but as the Minister well knows, we are still seeing inexorable rises. The strategy of Rebuilding Ireland is to push more and more families into the private rental sector through the housing assistance payment, HAP, programme, which is not stable, does not provide security of tenure and is not value for money. The Minister might have heard me speak some time ago to the Tánaiste about families who are being evicted from HAP tenancies. The cost-benefit analysis of investing in housing stock or lining the pockets of private landlords would clearly show where the longer-term financial gain would be, not to mention the main benefit of providing greater security for families and their children.

Focus Ireland’s report, Finding a Home: Families’ Journeys out of Homelessness, by Dr. Kathy Walsh and Brian Harvey, which was published last November, showed that the negative impacts of homelessness abated more quickly for those families who were rehoused in local authority accommodation or with an approved housing body compared with those placed in HAP accommodation, for the simple reason of uncertainly and the feeling children have. I am sure the Minister has met them himself. They experience great fear about the fact they do not have a forever home like most children.. It is interesting to note that the report found that the speed of adjustment did not appear to be linked to the duration of homelessness.

Last year, Barnardos produced a briefing paper, Faces Behind the Figures of Child Homelessness, which stated these children are being robbed of their childhoods and this will have lifelong implications for them and for all of society. In the years to come, perhaps in the not too distant future, Ministers will be held accountable and even people who served in the previous Government and the Government before that will be held accountable for this. We have had apologies recently for horrendous deeds done to citizens in the dark chapters the Taoiseach has spoken about. Here we are, living in a dark chapter, and the Minister and his colleagues have the power to bring it to an end with Fianna Fáil, in the joint Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Government, but they are absolutely refusing to do that.

Hidden homelessness is often mentioned in the national discourse but it is not recorded. Week in, week out Deputies meet some of the huge number of families with children who are living in cramped and overcrowded accommodation, sharing with family members or friends and couch-surfing, which, unfortunately, we have all had to get used to in recent times. We have had the report from Leilani Farha, the special rapporteur for adequate housing with the United Nations, which supported calls for a right to housing to be included in the Constitution. That could be done on 26 October if the Minister wanted to do so. A right to housing could be put into the Constitution. Several Bills have been introduced by colleagues in the House asking precisely for this to happen.

Yesterday, we spoke a lot about Europe, as we will do in the coming days. Given it is a European-wide problem, to what extent has the Minister sought support from the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived? I know the Minister and the Government have done some work in this regard but have they really exploited the possibilities of getting serious funding for our local authorities to rebuild their stock and give them a housing arm?
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the tireless work of the volunteers behind the #MyNameIs campaign, including Mick Caul, Erica Fleming and others; Anthony Flynn and the team in Inner City Helping Homeless, ICHH; the agencies working with, and advocating for, homeless children and families; the volunteers behind the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, who work very hard to have fun days out at Christmas and Easter, and all the teachers who support homeless children in their classrooms and bring understanding to their awful living conditions of these children. The Minister has an historic task here and he is flunking it