December 4-10 marks Homelessness Awareness Week 2023.
As I write, we are in the midst of a hugely challenging period when it comes to preventing and alleviating homelessness in our society.
Over the last decade, the number of households with homelessness status in Northern Ireland has more than doubled from just over 12,400 in March 2013 to 27,000 in June 2023.
The number of households living in temporary accommodation has increased by 104% since January 2019 to now stand at just over 4,200. Around 4,500 children were living in such accommodation in August of this year. From October 2022 to September 2023, just over 16,260 households presented to the Housing Executive as homeless.
Homelessness can have devastating consequences for people who experience it. Without the certainty of a place to call your own, it can be difficult to build a life. The stress and anxiety of living in temporary accommodation without knowing where you are going to be in the months and sadly, in some cases, years ahead can be hugely detrimental.
For the thousands of children living in temporary accommodation, the uncertainty and anxiety attached can have consequences which can last well into adulthood. Rather than playing with their friends or focusing on their schoolwork, some children have to worry about where they are going to be sleeping that night.
- Young people in NI work together to tackle rising youth homelessness
- Temporary accommodation spending does not address cause of homelessness – report
The theme of Homelessness Awareness Week this year is ‘Turning the Tide.’ We at Homeless Connect passionately believe that it is possible for this society to turn the tide on rising levels of homelessness. With the right strategy, the right resources and the right interventions the tide can be turned.
Tragically, like many other sectors here, rather than resources rising to meet the demand, the homelessness sector has instead had its resources squeezed. Rather than having certainty over funding, uncertainty and instability have become the norm.
Since 2017/8, the amount of money the Housing Executive has had to spend on providing temporary accommodation has grown by a staggering 309%. This has meant the Housing Executive has had to divert resources away from areas like homelessness prevention simply to react to the level of demand.
One of the core drivers of rising levels of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing suitable for people’s needs here. Put bluntly, we simply are not building enough social homes. Rather than increasing funding to build more social homes this year, the Department for Communities has felt that it has no choice but to cut funding for new social homes.
When responding to a complex problem like homelessness, it is vital to take a long-term and strategic approach. This is simply impossible in the environment we are in right now.
The budgetary difficulties being faced by the homelessness sector are but one of the toxic fruits which have grown from the dysfunctional governance of this society. Be under no illusion - the lack of functioning government has very real consequences for some of the most vulnerable people living here. Our members see the results of the ongoing stasis every single day.
This is not to suggest that somehow the restoration of an Executive would magically make everything better, in and of itself it wouldn’t. However, it would give us the opportunity to start taking the steps we need to take if we are ever going to turn the tide.
We know from the experience of our member organisations that homelessness can be prevented and reduced. Every year, the work of our member organisations and their statutory partners helps to prevent thousands of households from falling into homelessness and provide the support which can help people transition from homelessness to long-term accommodation.
The tragedy is that even with all the efforts currently put in, too many households are unable to access the support they need when they need it.
Concerted, well-planned and funded interventions could make a huge difference. We could turn the tide and see more people accessing the homes they need. Without such interventions, the situation will continue to deteriorate and degrade with more people falling into homelessness and all that can mean for themselves, their families and wider society.