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Record homeless toll results in £23m bill for temporary housing

By Cate McCurry

Published 03/11/2016

Disappointed: Tony McQuillan
Disappointed: Tony McQuillan

More than £23m has been spent on emergency housing in the last five years as the number of homeless people hit a record high.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) forks out millions of pounds every year on bed and breakfasts, hotels, hostels and private rented accommodation for the thousands of people who present themselves as homeless.

Last year alone, 1,137 families sought emergency housing with many forced to stay in temporary accommodation for months at a time because of the lack of permanent houses.

The figures come after it emerged almost 600 people sought emergency homes in the last year because of intimidation.

The vast majority of cases - three in every four - involved paramilitaries.

In the past 10 years, a total of 6,261 people told the NIHE they were homeless through intimidation, and every year the number one reason given by applicants is paramilitary-connected.

Director of Shelter NI, Tony McQuillan, said the figures expose the "invisible homeless" problem in Northern Ireland.

"We are disappointed and very annoyed at these figures, but it shows the scale of things that's been happening for many years," he said.

"The shock is that the local government is ignoring it. It's not a priority for them so they continue to spend this amount of money rather than spending it on new housing and that's really the problem - we do not have enough new housing."

Statistics from NIHE show that over £4.9m was spent on housing people who were considered homeless in 2015, an increase of £1m in four years.

By March last year, 11,202 people were listed as being homeless, the highest number since records began.

Mr McQuillan said the solution to the growing problem is not putting people into temporary housing but spending money on building new houses.

"There's a few people on the streets but we aren't tripping over them so the public doesn't think it's a major problem," he added.

"But now we can all see the scale of the problem and it's very significant. This is the invisible homelessness problem. We see a few lying on the street and we think that's the end, but it's the tip of a massive iceberg."

He said family breakdowns, children leaving home and people not being able to pay rent were major causes of homelessness.

Elderly people who need to have their home adapted also found themselves homeless because there is less money being made available to help.

He added: "Many families want to send their children to schools close to their home so they don't want to move far from the area they have been living in. All that kind of disruption is a nightmare and the chance of having private family time is much less. People have no security or knowledge of how long they are going to be staying at the temporary accommodation. All these people are being ignored and politicians seem to be happy to leave them there. We have a serious issue that is not being addressed in the new programme for government."

The figures also revealed that 78 members of the travelling community presented themselves as homeless in the last two years.

Families who last year sought emergency housing, with many having to stay in temporary accommodation for months because of a lack of permanent homes

People who, in the last 10 years, told the NIHE they were homeless through intimidation, three in every four of those cases involving paramilitaries

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