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Privatisation has stripped Northern Ireland Housing Executive of ability to tackle homelessness crisis

The news that the charity Extern is to buy a number of houses in north and west Belfast to help homeless people over a two-year period must be welcomed. But the Stormont Executive has a responsibility to deliver affordable, publicly owned housing and it should not be let off the hook.

The charity and voluntary sectors make a welcome and telling contribution to the lives of homeless and vulnerable people. But there are serious problems in relation to the provision of public housing, with levels of homelessness remaining at historically high levels since 2005/06.

It is already a matter of public shame that, in a period of a few weeks earlier this year, four people in Northern Ireland lost their lives sleeping on the streets.

The Executive must now launch a publicly funded and publicly owned housing programme as a matter of great urgency.

However, addressing the homelessness crisis also requires the support of a coordinated, multi-agency response from housing, health, education and social development to provide all the support that people need to help them move forward.

Over the years, the Executive has overseen the gradual privatisation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

The NIHE must be maintained as the primary public housing body in Northern Ireland for both the provision of new homes and as landlord of public-sector tenants.

The homelessness crisis cannot be properly addressed without the reinstatement of the NIHE as the lead housing agency.

GEMMA WEIR

Workers Party

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