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Huge Increase In Number Of Homeless Presenting At Council Offices

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A COUNTY Council official told the November meeting of Birr Municipal District that there has been a huge increase in the number of people presenting as homeless during the course of 2016.

She said the staff in the housing division of the County Council offices in Aras an Chontae Tullamore have dealt with a large number of people this year stating they are without a home.

 Cllr Peter Ormond pointed out that the Council's house building programme leaves a lot to be desired. 'We are reacting to problems rather than leading the way, and we are reacting in not a very good way. Instead of being positive leaders we are reduced to firefighting when problems arise. And when it comes to homelessness we are barely fighting at all.'

Cllr John Clendennen complimented the Council staff in the housing section who, he said, have been dealing very professionally with the homeless people over the months. 'And the feedback we have been getting is that the staff's work and advice is very helpful.

'While there have been a number of building acquisitions by the Council, in general the housing development is a very slow process. It is frustrating and we need to tackle it with more determination.' 

He said the derelict buildings in towns and villages remain a significant problem.

He added that a significant proportion of the homeless presentations are taking up the offer of emergency accommodation from the Midlands Simon Community. He warmly praised the charity group for their excellent work.

 On the plus side, he continued, the Council's housing waiting list has improved.

Cllr Seán Maher commented that the homeless statistic is 'shocking'. He said there are many empty houses in Offaly and the homeless should be housed in them.

 'I don't buy into the homelessness thing as much as other people do,' said Cllr John Leahy. 'A lot of people who are being called homeless are in fact living with their parents. There are plenty of families in my area where 30 to 35 year olds are still living with their parents. 

'The Council staff deserve great praise. They are doing their best to resolve the problem. 

'The issue is getting a lot of bad press but I haven't seen or heard of anybody sleeping on a street with a sleeping bag. They are in emergency accommodation. The homeless label is the wrong word.'

Cllr John Carroll disagreed. 'If you are in emergency accommodation you are homeless. It is a stark reality and it can't be downplayed. We are very fortunate to receive fantastic assistance from the Midlands Simon Community. 

'I think the rise of this problem should be laid at the feet of the government. The problem is due to a lack of will by the State to tackle the issue. In very poor times, in the '40s and '50s we built social housing. Now we are handing the housing industry over to private developers. There will always be people in economic difficulty who will be in need of affordable Council housing. The state and local authorities should recognise that this will always be an issue which they will have to meet head on and tackle. Instead we are getting quangos and private developers who do not care for those in economic difficulty.'

Director of Services Declan Kirrane said commonsense is prevailing and Part 8 planning applications are not required for the provision of emergency accommodation.

 The Council officer from the housing department told the meeting that there were over 100 new homeless presentations during the first three quarters of 2016. 'Notice to quit by private rented landlords,' she said, 'unaffordable private rents and the lack of private rented supply were the main reasons for presentation. All emergency accommodation beds in the county and the region were continually fully occupied in 2016. Often we are turning away people who are presenting as homeless and telling them to live with their families.

  'At the end of September there were 22 adults and 26 children from the Offaly Housing list in emergency accommodation. The budget for Homeless Services for 2016 was €193,000. Expenditure on homeless services at the end of August was €185,000 due to the significant demand for emergency accommodation. Some additional funding contribution towards emergency accommodation was received from the government in October 2016.'

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