So the election is over and the verdict is in. The votes have been counted and Northern Ireland has elected its 90 MLAs for the next Assembly mandate. Having come through a lengthy and bruising campaign, MLAs will be keen to get to work for their constituents.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the future of the devolved institutions remains uncertain. It is not the place of Homeless Connect to comment on the issues which have led us to this place. However, it is our place to point out the damaging consequences the lack of effective devolved government will have on those at risk of or experiencing homelessness and the sector which seeks to support them.
We are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. Right across this society, many people are struggling to make ends meet. Rents continue to rise, while the costs of energy continue to spiral. Many are looking ahead to the coming winter with trepidation. Some are tragically on the edge of homelessness with all of the consequences this may have. Others have already gone over the edge.
The homelessness sector is under enormous pressure. Providers are being hit by rising costs for heating, electricity and agency staff, while income streams such as Supporting People and the Homelessness Services budget remain static.
The growing difficulties with the recruitment and retention of staff continue to compound. Services are finding it incredibly challenging to find suitable staff to fill vacancies with the salaries and terms and conditions they can offer. Experienced staff are considering other sectors who can offer better pay and conditions. This places increasing pressure on the remaining staff.
The number of households in temporary accommodation remains high, while the waiting list for social housing stands at over 44,000. This has led to households having to stay in temporary accommodation for longer than they need to, placing more pressure on a system already under strain.
People experiencing homelessness who rely on the sector are being negatively impacted by these challenges. The homelessness sector will always seek to do everything it can to support those at risk of or experiencing homelessness. However, the current situation is stretching the sector to the absolute limit with negative consequences for those the sector seeks to serve.
Additional financial resources and much needed reforms are required. To deliver this outcome, a fully operational Executive and Assembly committed to supporting the most vulnerable is needed. Such institutions could pass a new three-year budget to tackle the myriad range of challenges this society faces, including the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis.
A fully functioning Assembly could help deliver the transformative legislative and policy change set out in our manifesto, helping to set this society on the path to ending homelessness.
Ongoing stasis over the Executive will have consequences for the poorest in our society. For the purposes of social justice, this society needs effective government. We need the Executive and Assembly back up and running at full speed. Our political parties and the relevant Governments need to strive to find solutions which allow this to happen.