Stormont is helping the homeless
Sleeping rough on the street can be the image that springs to mind when you hear the word "homeless". This is the most visible form of homelessness, but in reality it will typically represent less than 1% of those considered homeless.
The term "homeless" can include people living in hostels, or with friends or family. Many won't know that it also includes those living in unsuitable accommodation - meaning someone who has lived in a house that does not suit their needs for many years.
While problems with existing accommodation are a common factor, homelessness is caused by more than housing problems. Relationship breakdowns and domestic violence are also reasons why a person becomes homeless. Whatever the circumstances, however, becoming homeless can have a significant impact on wellbeing.
To ensure homes are available for those who need them, my department has delivered 10,000 new homes in the last four years, with almost 2,000 more planned this year. Also this year, in spite of many other pressing demands on my department's finances, I have protected the Supporting People fund - more than £70m - which ensures vulnerable people can continue to live independently, keeping them off the homeless list.
I've seen for myself excellent examples of services that this funding provides, including outreach support, emergency "crash" beds and hostel accommodation, including accommodation for those with complex needs such as alcohol and drug addiction.
These services should mean nobody is forced to sleep rough, however some do. To tackle this, the Housing Executive is working with homeless organisations on a Belfast Street Needs Survey, which will help us understand why and what additional services are required. I look forward to seeing the outcome of this survey.
In addition, as a way of preventing further homelessness - through £340,000 support for the Mortgage Debt Advice Service - I have ensured that people facing difficulties with paying their mortgage are given the advice and support they need to keep them in their homes, where possible.
Much is being done - and will continue to be done - to tackle the issue of homelessness in Northern Ireland.
Mervyn Storey MLA is Social Development Minister