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20,000 Northern Ireland households are now homeless

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Concern: Paul McCusker

Concern: Paul McCusker

Concern: Paul McCusker

Nearly 20,000 households are recorded as homeless, new figures have revealed.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, who obtained the statistics from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), said they showed a system that was not fit for purpose.

As of September 30 last year, the NIHE said 19,378 households were on the waiting list and are classified as statutorily homeless.

Mr McCusker said: "These figures show a clear lack of leadership in dealing with the crisis of homelessness.

"The cycle of homelessness is sadly a reality for thousands of families and individuals who see no way out of it and temporary accommodation is now being used as medium stay accommodation as the NIHE find it impossible to move those who are homeless out of hostel provision."

He added that homelessness caused serious disadvantage to children as they grew up.

"Charities work extremely hard to provide support to families and individuals who present homeless each day," the councillor said.

"Currently we have no initiatives that look at prevention and a housing allocation system that is unfair and broken."

Single people were the largest affected group, with 8,534 waiting for accommodation.

Other groups were: 2,724 elderly, 334 large adult (three or more adults), 1,511 large family, 777 small adult (two adults), and 5,489 small family.

In the past six months, for those requiring emergency accommodation, there were 516 placements in a hotel or B&B.

Mr McCusker said the figures also showed 13,505 children were living in households accepted as homeless.

He challenged the NIHE and the Department for Communities (DfC) to show that their current homelessness strategy was working.

"The Northern Ireland Audit Office highlighted the failings from this strategy and we are yet to see any progress from NIHE and the DfC in relation to recommendations made," he said.

"We are failing these children and individuals and their human rights are being withheld, which is an absolute disgrace."

The NIHE said all of the households on the list were entitled to temporary accommodation.

It added: "As the organisation with statutory responsibility for responding to homelessness in Northern Ireland, the Housing Executive funds a range of services through voluntary sector partners to tackle the issue."

In 2018/19 it allocated £36.5m to homeless services, which funds more than 3,000 temporary units and a range of services.

This also includes providers who cater for those who present to NIHE, but were not statutorily homeless.

It noted the Audit Office report referred to the 2012-17 homelessness strategy, with a number of recommendations incorporated into the 2017-22 strategy.

The Department for Communities said a wider response from across all society was needed, with housing being just one of many societal issues that led to homelessness.

"For this reason the department is leading on a cross-departmental action plan to help address the underlying reasons why people may find themselves in a homeless situation," it said.

It added that the delivery of new social housing remained a priority, with money provided to build almost 5,000 homes in the past three years.

Other inititatives to increase the supply of suitable housing include new funding streams for shared ownership, other forms of affordable housing, and releasing more public land for housing.

Belfast Telegraph