This afternoon the latest meeting of the All Party Group on Homelessness took place. The group heard from officials from the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and the Probation Board.
Some key takeaways from the meeting:
- All of our speakers agreed that responding to homelessness requires effective working across different Executive Departments. Strong and effective partnerships are needed if homelessness is to be prevented and reduced.
- The negative impact of experiencing homelessness on health was starkly illustrated. Those experiencing homelessness often experience poor health, both physically and mentally. Health officials noted that one in three residents living in temporary accommodation here have challenges with their mental health. The need for effective dual diagnosis services for those facing challenges with substance use and mental health difficulties was highlighted.
- The importance of service user involvement in the development of policy was emphasised by speakers. They noted how important it is to hear from those who have lived experience in considering responses to homelessness.
- There was an acknowledgement that while there are some single-sex hostels for women in Northern Ireland, that there is a need for more facilities to support women experiencing homelessness. Recently published research from the Housing Executive has shown that there is a gap in services to support women experiencing chronic homelessness.
- Northern Ireland Prison Service Figures show that 19% of prisoners were homeless before entering prison, while 30% had no accommodation to go to on their release. Tragically, some would prefer to sleep rough rather than go to temporary accommodation which is unsuitable for their needs.
- The ‘Everyone In’ programme introduced to provide accommodation to individuals subject to the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds‘ criteria throughout the pandemic has supported over 50 individuals living here. The programme has been extended until the end of the year, but it is unclear whether it will be extended further. There is a clear desire to ensure that those who have been supported throughout the pandemic through ‘Everyone In’ do not find themselves back on the streets after the pandemic is over.
The All Party Group on Homelessness has one further meeting during this mandate early next year, when the Minister for Communities will brief the group.