Northern Ireland

‘We’ve neglected housing’ - charity warns that an estimated 80,000 people are now homeless

According to official statistics 55,500 people are homeless but a charity has warned the full scale of the issue is underreported

The Conservative Government had pledged to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament
Leading homelessness charity, Simon Community has revealed Hidden Homelessness is a growing problem across Northern Ireland (Yui Mok/PA)

A charity has warned that the social housing system is “under severe pressure” after its research revealed that homelessness is a growing problem in Northern Ireland.

This follows news that the number of new social homes being built in the north is set to drop to the lowest level since 2009 amid budgetary constraints.

According to official statistics 55,500 people, including 4,500 children, are currently homeless but Simon Community has warned that the full scale of the issue is underreported.

According to recent research carried out by the charity as many as 80,000 people are currently homeless in the north.

This includes around 25,000 people not in the system who are said to be experiencing “hidden homelessness”.

The charity found that soaring private rental costs was the most common reason for people facing homelessness, with many sleeping on sofas or even their cars.

Jim Dennison CEO of Simon Community, said these numbers were “shocking” and came at a time where social housing is under “severe pressure”.

“The system is really struggling, and it should be of no surprise to anyone, particularly those who have worked in housing for a long time,” he added.

“We’ve neglected housing for over 20 years, we’ve made really bad decisions. We haven’t invested in housing, we haven’t looked at the system and the structure of the provision of affordable homes.

“We haven’t seen housing as a priority in the Programme for Government and we haven’t seen homelessness as being more than a housing issue or a shelter issue. It’s actually health, justice and an education and poverty issue.

“So the system is under severe pressure but now’s the time to do things differently.”

Last week it was revealed that only up to 400 new social units would be started this year, an 80% cut to the initial target of 2,050.

The news comes as 47,312 households are now on the social housing waiting list, 75% of which are deemed to be in housing stress.

Mr Dennison added that it is difficult for people currently waiting on a social home because “supply isn’t on the way anytime soon”.

“The minister announced 400 new social home starts and that simply isn’t enough,” said Mr Dennison.

“We need to look at different ways in the void properties that we have in social housing. Can we invest and turn them around really, really quickly, to actually get them in a liveable condition?

“The problem is that we have done things in housing the same way for years and expect different results and we haven’t got those different results, which shows that it’s just absolutely dysfunctional and now is the time to try and fix it.”