Northern Ireland news

PLATFORM: Start the conversation about homelessness

Last year 6,500 children were recorded as homeless

HOMELESSNESS is something we tend to think about at this time of year. As families gather together at Christmas to enjoy the festivities, we are reminded about the importance of having a home.

This year will be different for many. Covid continues to affect our lives. Restrictions, self-imposed or otherwise, mean fewer gatherings and smaller numbers around the table.

The pandemic has impacted on homelessness too, making an already challenging situation worse.

In August this year, there were around 3,400 households in temporary accommodation, including hostels and B&Bs - a 65 per cent increase since January 2019. Meanwhile the social housing waiting list continues to grow - around 45,000 households are waiting for a home.

Much of the wider population is unaware of the ongoing and escalating nature of the homelessness and housing crisis.

While single men make up the largest category of those presenting as homeless, just under one third are families. Last year 6,500 children were recorded as homeless with around 3,600 living in temporary accommodation – without a home.

If we are to address this crisis, we need to start conversations in homes, workplaces and communities about what it means to be homeless, the impact it has on lives, and what we can do together to change things for the better.

Homeless Connect provides a range of services. We are the representative body for the homelessness sector here. Our members provide temporary accommodation, floating support, street outreach, and day centre facilities.

We also deliver home starter packs of essential items to people moving from homelessness to home. We run FareShare NI, which redistributes good food to good causes, helping to fight hunger and tackle food waste. We also support service users.

Many people using homelessness services have complex needs. The support provided is essential, but worryingly services are becoming increasingly stretched - both due to cost pressures and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. This, in part, is linked to the sector’s ongoing funding situation. While costs and service user needs grow, the funding has remained static.

As the draft multi-year budget is considered, the executive should be mindful of the excellent work provided by homelessness services. Staff continue to work to keep people safe throughout the pandemic, alleviating pressure on our already overburdened health and social care services - saving lives and saving the public purse.

I am confident that the homeless crisis can be alleviated. With the right policies and funding, homelessness can be prevented and reduced.

Substantial change is needed if we are to see this outcome delivered.

We need joined up working across all executive departments, significantly more social homes, legislative reform to shift our response towards prevention and properly funded services to support people who need temporary accommodation.

I am privileged to represent this deeply caring sector, knowing the situation would be much worse without the tireless efforts of those who work in it - dedicated to preventing homelessness and reducing the impact it has on people's lives.

As we approach the assembly elections in 2022 take the opportunity to speak to your political representatives about homelessness and what we can do, together, to end it.

:: Nicola McCrudden is chief executive of Homeless Connect @HomelessNI







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