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Young homeless figures in Northern Ireland soar

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CONCERNS: Sofa-surfing has risen steeply

CONCERNS: Sofa-surfing has risen steeply

CONCERNS: Sofa-surfing has risen steeply

The tide of Northern Ireland's 'hidden homeless' - young people forced to 'sofa-surf' between homes - has soared inside a year, new figures have revealed.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey disclosed that last year there was a total of 1,481 placements in hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation, compared to 320 in 2019.

And the Housing Executive revealed requests for temporary accommodation has soared from 3,500 to 7,500 in the last 12 months.

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Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey

Pressure on placements came as accommodation used by the Housing Executive shrunk to allow for social distancing and self-isolation cases during the Covid-19 crisis.

And Sinn Fein minister Hargey also said a number of families may have obtained more than one placement during the period.

The figures were revealed in an Assembly written response to MLA Robin Newton, who said it is becoming almost impossible for young people to meet deposits demanded by private landlords.

The DUP member for East Belfast also claimed the Housing Executive is facing an uphill climb to tackle the increase in young adults unable to go on living with their parents.

"That in one year the number of 18- to 25-year-olds placed in hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation quadrupled is alarming and a sad indictment on housing provision," he said.

"The reasons for young people needing a home away from their parent or parents can vary and may be complex. Relationship breakdowns, substance abuse, mental health issues and unemployment can lead to difficult home situations and families breaking down.

"I am frequently contacted by young constituents who are the hidden homeless as they sofa-surf with many moving from one house to another.

"It's virtually impossible for them to meet the deposit and reference conditions for private landlord homes, and the situation is extremely worrying."

It is thought the Covid-19 pandemic, with families forced to spend much longer hours together in their homes, may have been a factor. It has also lead to pressure on housing allocations from women seeking refuge from domestic violence.

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MLA Robin Newton

MLA Robin Newton

MLA Robin Newton

Mr Newton went on: "My contact with the Housing Executive confirms that despite their best efforts they are fighting an uphill battle trying to get on top of the issue.

"Providing a permanent home is a start to tackling the problems and the minister for communities must step up to the plate and deliver new homes."

A spokesperson for the department replied, however: "Some individuals may have been placed multiple times so it is not the case that the number of young people quadrupled. Nevertheless, it is sadly the case that there is a significant disruption in the housing system as a result of the ongoing health pandemic. The department has sought to support the Housing Executive with an additional £7m.

"Both the department and HE expect the longer term impacts will be significant and long lasting. The department will be working proactively, with others across government to improve our response to homelessness, to focus on prevention rather than management."

The Housing Executive said: "The real solution lies in the long term supply of homes which would provide security for families and is also a better use of resources and finance."


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