In its last meeting before the summer break, the APG on Homelessness heard presentations from Dermot Murphy, Director of Services and Development at Depaul and Kevin Wright, CEO of First Housing Aid and Support Services.
The meeting of the APG was especially timely given the news released last week from the Department of Communities regarding the final budget allocation for 2023/4. The budget announcement indicated that the Supporting People budget would be held at the same level as last year.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the session:
- The homelessness sector is facing major challenges arising from a lack of funding. While both Dermot and Kevin welcomed the news that the Supporting People budget was not being cut, they indicated that this news has to be viewed in the context of a budget freeze which had been in place since 2007. Pressures on budgets are exacerbating the recruitment and retention crisis in the sector and are detrimentally impacting on services. The passion and desire to provide support to people at risk of or experiencing homelessness was abundantly clear; however, for services to be effective, they have to be properly funded on a multi-year basis.
- Financial arrangements around ‘restricted reserves’ need to be addressed. In their presentations, both Kevin and Dermot referred to a longstanding challenge for organisations funded through the Supporting People programme related to restricted reserves. A call was made for the current arrangements in this area to be reviewed with a view to determining how these reserves can be used to improve services and increase resources for organisations in the sector. The APG agreed to write to the relevant Executive Departments to ask about the current situation and call for a resolution of the issues involved.
- A substantial part of the conversation at the APG related to the importance of collaboration between Executive Departments, statutory bodies and the voluntary and community sector in response to homelessness. There was widespread acknowledgment that there is an eagerness to work collaboratively to address the challenges we are seeing in the sector. However, difficulties remain around joint funding for services. Particularly regarding the subject of education, there was recognition of a piecemeal approach with different organisations working in a variety of different settings but without funding or co-ordination by the relevant Department concerned. The APG agreed to write to the Department of Education to ask what steps the Department can take to strategically seek to raise awareness of homelessness. The need for a strategic approach was emphasised.
The APG plans to meet again in September.