At Homeless Connect, we strongly welcome the return of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. The stasis which surrounded the lack of devolved institutions here has had a profound impact on people experiencing homelessness and the organisations that support them.
Now that the Executive is returning, we turn our attention to what happens next. In-trays will be full of pressing issues requiring immediate responses from Government. Amongst these, is the need to address the acute levels of homelessness and the lack of social housing supply.
The era of stop-start government here has had a damaging impact on the ability to give sustained attention to how we respond to homelessness. We have strategies which can make a difference – to end homelessness, to support people and to increase housing supply, but they lack the resources required for implementation. We also lag behind other jurisdictions when it comes to progressive legislative change that can make a real difference to the lives of people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
In 2022, we produced a manifesto for the Assembly election which included ten commitments we asked parties to make in their manifestos. Very little progress has been made on any of this – but with a new Assembly, we will be pushing for the transformative change needed to end homelessness – along with our membership and people with lived experience.
We highlight three specific asks from our manifesto which we believe an incoming Executive needs to urgently consider and deliver on:
- A standalone, specific housing outcome in the Programme for Government 2022-2027 with emphasis on the prevention and reduction of homelessness. It is vital that the political parties making up the next Executive deliver on a specific standalone housing outcome with indicators focused on homelessness in the next Programme for Government. Addressing the difficulties we are facing in this space must be a top priority for the next Executive. To do that, a standalone housing outcome is needed in the Programme for Government. All of the Executive parties have indicated that they supported the introduction of such an outcome and we expect this to be delivered in the next Programme for Government.
- Increasing the Supporting People budget to ensure people have access to the right type of support they need when they need it. The two key funding streams for homelessness services: the Supporting People Budget and the homelessness services budget, are both under huge pressure. While the level of need for housing support and homelessness prevention projects has risen, the level of funding seeking this end has not been forthcoming. The homelessness sector has been struggling to recruit and retain staff for many years amidst funding freezes and cuts. Valuable projects like the homelessness prevention fund had to be stopped due to the rising numbers of households needing access to temporary accommodation. The Executive collectively need to ensure the sector has the resources it needs to truly prevent and reduce homelessness. Without those resources, the situation will only continue to worsen.
- Increasing investment for new social and genuinely affordable housing. Simply put, you cannot prevent and reduce homelessness without an adequate supply of genuinely affordable and social housing. There is a systemic and structural gap between the number of new social homes which can be built and the number of households joining the social housing waiting list each year. The last Executive produced a housing supply strategy which unfortunately could not be implemented without an Executive in place. This new Executive needs to collectively sign off on the strategy and ensure it has the resources to succeed.
Homeless Connect and our membership believe that real and progressive change is possible. We have strong partnerships with each other and with statutory providers. What we need is the political will and investment to make change happen.
We urge this newly formed Executive to provide political leadership and to join us on our journey to end homelessness.