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Housing Bill must be strengthened if government is to deliver its own housing and homeless policies

19 November, 2008 - by Pearse Doherty TD

Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson Senator Pearse Doherty today outlined two substantive areas of the Housing Bill 2008 that must be strengthened if the government is in real terms committed to delivering improved provision of housing services to those in need in order to build safe and sustainable homes and communities.

The Donegal Senator said:

“I want to see greater access to housing services particularly for those experiencing homelessness; better quality housing services; and sustainable and safe communities. To that end I have tabled two substantive amendments to the Housing Bill.

“The first deals with housing services and my amendments though simple would have a profound effect on the access to those services, particularly for those in need.

It is the intention of this amendment to strengthen in law a rights-based approach to accessing housing services.

“International best practice increasingly demonstrates that where a rights based approach is taken to public service provision, including housing, not only is service provision more effective but unequal access to services is also greatly reduced, making for a fairer and more equitable society.

“Social housing is one of many areas, like our health and education systems, whereby gaining access to quality services is often determined by ones ability to pay rather than ones level of need. This situation is intolerable, both on a point of principle, but also for the 43,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists, and the 5000 people experiencing homelessness tonight across the state.

“Providing a legislative right to access housing service would be a significant step forward in ensuring that those in greatest need secure the public services that they as citizens are entitled to as of right.

“To date Fianna Fáil led governments have had a shameful record on meeting social housing needs in general with the needs of the homeless worse affected. It has failed to meet social housing targets by as much as 40% in recent years helping to artificially inflate the property market, as well as leaving thousands of people, including children in bed and breakfasts, sub-standard, over priced private accommodation and in too many instances on the streets.

“The second substantive seeks to put into law a new definition of homelessness. At present homelessness is defined under Section 10 of the 1988 Housing Act. The definition has merit, but is far too restrictive and fails to capture the actual reality of homelessness on the ground.

“The premise of the amendment is very simple, the first step in solving a problem lies in its definition. This applies to social policy and legislation as much as anything else in life.  If we are serious about reducing and eventually ending homelessness then we must all work from an agreed and comprehensive legal definition. Across the European Union NGOs and academics use what is known as the European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion or ETHOS definition of homelessness. This includes people defined as roofless – such as rough sleepers; people who are homelessness – such as those living in emergency accommodation; and those living at risk of homelessness – whether in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation or experiencing domestic violence.

“My amendment seeks to incorporate this ETHOS definition of homelessness into law, retaining the valuable language in the existing definition while adding the broader ETHOS typology.

“This is the definition used by voluntary services providers across the country. It is the definition used by the Homeless Agency here in Dublin. Interestingly even the government’s new homeless strategy includes a commitment to review the operational application of the existing definition in line with ETHOS and includes a detailed explanation of the typology in the appendices to the strategy. Unfortunately the government has set its face against a new legal definition.

“This simply makes no sense.

“Government continues to act as the states biggest obstacle in realising its own policies on ending homelessness. Government’s new Homeless Strategy, The Way Home, published in August of this year is an ambitious plan. However housing agencies have been critical of the strategy as it does not incorporate an implementation plan. Again this does not make sense.

“It is also deeply disappointing that the government has not brought forward amendments to incorporate the legislative commitments of The Way Home Strategy into the Housing Bill. In particular I want to highlight the need to place both the homeless fora and homeless action plans on a statutory footing as a matter of urgency. The homeless strategy intends to end long term homelessness by 2010. Time is running out, and if we are to be successful then it needs to be based on a firm and clear legal footing.

“I will bring forward a specific amendment on this issue at report stage.

“Sinn Fein support’s the Housing Bill however it is my firm view that its needs to be strengthened to ensure better provision of housing services to those in need in order to build safe and sustainable homes and communities.” ENDS

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