This afternoon the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey MLA, spoke at the final meeting of the APG on Homelessness for this mandate. Here are some of the key takeaways:
- In her opening presentation, the Minister outlined her belief that access to a safe, decent and affordable place to live should be a human right. She and her Department want to see homelessness prevented and any experience of homelessness to be brief, rare and non-recurring.
- The Minister outlined her thanks to the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency for the collaborative work they have engaged in with her and her Department in supporting those at risk of and experiencing homelessness since the advent of the pandemic. A theme throughout the session was the importance of building on the collaborative work across the Executive which began in response to the pandemic. The Minister noted the key role of the Interdepartmental Homelessness Action Plan in this regard and the fact that the year 3 Action Plan will be published in the near future. She noted that if homelessness is to be prevented and reduced, such work will be crucial.
- Regarding the ‘Everyone In’ programme for individuals impacted by having ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ status, the Minister outlined that despite the legislative and policy challenges she and her Department want to find a positive solution on a longer term basis for this vulnerable group. Officials did stress that this is a complex area which requires careful consideration.
- The Minister encouraged everyone in attendance to respond to the ongoing consultation on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive Homelessness Strategy 2022-2027 and the accompanying draft Strategic Action Plan for Temporary Accommodation. She described the Homelessness Strategy as “crucial” in terms of this society’s response to homelessness.
- The Minister indicated that her officials have been tasked with completing a review in to the homelessness legislation which is in place here before the end of this Assembly mandate. This review will consider what changes need to be made to the legislation to improve this society’s response to homelessness. Any recommendations arising from the review will have to be taken forward in the next Assembly mandate, but they will provide a basis for reform to be taken forward in the next mandate.
- It was outlined that ‘Housing First‘ will be an important response to homelessness in the months and years to come in this society. Work has already commenced between several Executive Departments and the Housing Executive to increase funding and support for expanding the use of ‘Housing First.’ The Minister made clear that we need to see new solutions to prevent and reduce homelessness in response to a changing world.
- On the Supporting People (SP) budget, the Minister confirmed that her Department bid for an increase to be included in the multi-year budget for 2022-2025. This bid was successful and if this budget is passed the SP budget will rise for the first time since 2007. The Minister described the SP programme as an “excellent” way to fund support for work with groups with particular needs such as those experiencing homelessness.
- The Minister stressed the wider work her Department is engaged in with regard to housing. She highlighted the revitalisation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive; the Housing Supply Strategy (which is currently out for consultation); and the introduction of an intermediate rental model to provide additional housing options.
- The Minister expressed her gratitude for the work of the homelessness sector over the last ten years since the financial crash. She particularly highlighted the hard work of the sector over the last twenty two months since the arrival of Covid.
- The Minister reiterated her support for a standalone housing outcome to be included in the Executive’s Programme for Government. She said that it was important that it be included due to the wide-ranging impact housing has right across the areas covered by the Executive.
This was the last session of the All Party Group on Homelessness for this Assembly mandate. You can read summaries of past meetings of the APG in the News section of our website. Homeless Connect has been privileged to provide the secretariat of the group which was founded in April of last year. We believe the group has played a valuable role in raising policy issues related to homelessness at the Assembly and in considering the critically important Homelessness Strategy for 2022-2027. It is hoped that the group will be restored in the next Assembly mandate.