On Thursday 3 February, I had the opportunity to brief the Communities Committee on behalf of Homeless Connect. I was accompanied by two individuals with lived experience of homelessness, Saoirse and Seanna.
This was the first time I have had the opportunity to brief the Committee since I joined Homeless Connect just under a year ago.
The session was focused on homelessness and the impact of the proposed draft multi-year budget on the homelessness sector. In recent weeks, Grainia Long, the CEO of the Housing Executive had described the proposed budget as “very bleak” for the housing and homelessness sector.
We at Homeless Connect agrees with this assessment.
In my remarks to the Committee, I highlighted to Committee members our deep concern about what the impact would be if the draft budget is implemented.
The draft budget proposes effective year-on-year cuts to the budget for the Department for Communities. This will feed through to negatively impact on the housing and homelessness system.
A significant proportion of the funding for the Housing Executive comes from the Department for Communities. If the Housing Executive has its funding cut, the impact of this cascades down through the homelessness system as many organisations in the homelessness sector receive funding from the Housing Executive.
In my remarks, I stressed two points. Firstly, the reality is that the reduction and prevention of homelessness will prove very difficult to achieve if this draft budget is implemented. This is due to the fact that many of the key actions in the homelessness strategy, the strategic action plan for temporary accommodation and the housing supply strategy will prove impossible to implement without additional funding.
Secondly, the housing and homelessness system is already under major pressure and the funding settlement proposed in the draft budget will not in our view assist in improving the situation this society is currently facing. In closing, I called on the members to do everything in their power to ensure the housing and homelessness sector gets more funding than the proposed draft budget sets out.
During the session, Saoirse and Seanna spoke powerfully about their personal experiences of the homelessness system. They both clearly explained the negative impact that experiencing homelessness can have.
Too often, the voices of those with lived experience are overlooked in consideration of government policy. It was positive that the committee facilitated hearing their voices. Committee members spoke of the impact their testimony had on them.
It was positive to hear during the time for questions members outline their commitment to taking action to support the housing and homelessness sector going forward. Members were left in no doubt as to what the possible negative impact could be if this draft budget is implemented.
The resignation of the First Minister later that day has placed the future of the budget in doubt. The future of the devolved institutions going forward is uncertain.
What is certain though is that the numbers on the social housing waiting list continues to grow; that more and more households are approaching the Housing Executive in need of temporary accommodation; and that many people living here are struggling with the rising cost of living.
Some households will be pushed to the brink of experiencing homelessness by these rising costs. Tragically others will tip over the edge with all of the consequences this brings.
Considering the devastating impact that homelessness can have, preventing and reducing it should be a top priority for our politicians. The fact is that the proposed draft budget does not prioritise tackling homelessness.
Whatever the final budget looks like, in whatever form it comes, it needs to come a better settlement for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Failure on this front will have grim consequences. I know that we at Homeless Connect will do everything we can to deliver a better outcome.
You can watch the session here starting at 2:28:00.
Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Homeless Connect