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Charities hit out at 'disingenuous' re-categorisation of homeless figures

A number of charities have hit out at the Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy after it was revealed today that the Department of Housing has removed 1,606 people from its official homeless figures this year.

They were taken out of the statistics at the request of the Minister who blamed "categorisation errors".

According to the latest figures out today, 9,527 people, including almost 3,700 children, were temporarily living in hotels and B&Bs in August.

Mr Murphy has been accused of wanting to keep numbers listed as living in emergency accommodation below 10,000.

Without the re-categorisation, the number of people temporarily living in hotels and B&Bs last month would have stood at 11,133.

The Minister said: "Earlier this year a number of categorisation errors were identified and corrected in the March and April reports.

"These had involved the categorisation of individuals in houses and apartments owned or leased by the local authorities or Approved Housing Bodies as being in emergency accommodation.

"I had requested a report on the full extent of this practice. My Department recently submitted a report to me on this matter, which identified further local authorities categorising houses and apartments as emergency accommodation.

"The relevant local authorities have amended these categorisations and I am now satisfied that our report correctly identifies the families and individuals who are in emergency accommodation.

"My Department will be working closely with the local authorities to support these individuals and families into secure tenancies”.

Inner City Helping Homeless, which provides services to homeless people, said it had "major concerns" over the removal of people from the figures.

In a statement, the group said: "The Minister’s statement says that the Department will be working with Local Authorities to move these people into secure tenancies which shows that they haven’t had their housing needs met, therefore, they should still be included in monthly figures.

"We have seen year on year increases across the board from figures issued in August 2017. The overall figure is up 15% on the same time last year.

"The number of homeless children is up 21% on the same period, the number of homeless families is up 18%, the number of homeless adults is up 12% and the number of homeless people over 65 years of age is up 28% on August 2017."

ICHH CEO Anthony Flynn said the "Minister’s abacus is now broken".

"These figures just do not wash. I am fully supportive of any reduction within homelessness," he said.

"The constant reclassifications by the Department of Housing shows a very disingenuous attempt in reducing overall figures and is cause for serious concern. We cannot rely on or compare these figures, a full review of the changes in categorization is now warranted.

"A total of 741 people have been removed from the figures with 251 adults and 490 children.

[quote]The Minister cannot use these people as political pawns in order to keep the overall homeless figure below 10,000 people.[/quote]

"We must see the National Oversight & Audit Committee (NOAC) now intervene and calculate how many people are actually homeless in the state. Minister Murphy cannot redefine the word ‘homeless’ at his own leisure," he said.

Merchants Quay Ireland, the national homeless and drugs charity, also said that the latest figures do not show the full picture of the homeless crisis.

Co-founder of Merchants Quay Ireland Tony Geoghegan said the re-categorisation and exclusion of some homeless people from the figures show that there is "a real lack of credible and reliable data", thereby diminishing "the capacity of organisations and individuals involved in addressing the crisis".

“We welcome the decrease in the overall number of people homeless; however we must not lose sight of the fact that we still have 9,527 people in emergency accommodation with others still sleeping in laneways and doorways on our streets every night," he said.

“With the current re-categorisation of homeless statistics, we run the very real risk of losing sight of the real human trauma behind the figures and of homelessness becoming almost an acceptable social norm.

[quote]The homeless crisis is not unsolvable, but ultimately the solution requires the provision of sufficient social and affordable housing.[/quote]

"The Government has a real moral test to hold to its commitment to deliver the required level of housing needed, while also focusing on the immediate needs of the thousands of men, women and children still caught in homelessness today," he said.

June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy at Barnardos

Children's charity Barnardos acknowledged the drop in the number of children registered as living in emergency accommodation, which dropped 4.5% from July to August.

However, it wished to highlight that the decrease comes alongside Mr Murphy's re-categorisation announcement.

June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy at Barnardos said: “While we are of course welcoming of the significant drop in the reported number of children in emergency accommodation, it is unclear as to how much of the drop can be attributed to policies working and families actually securing a home instead of the categorisation adjustments that the Minister reported today.

"We will need to wait until next month’s figures to see if a downward trend is emerging. It's too early to tell at this stage.

[quote]In recent weeks we’ve heard how rents are continuing to rapidly rise, thousands of homes and properties lie vacant around the country, and a Government scheme set to deliver thousands of homes has only delivered 15.[/quote]

"It is time for the Minister and Government to admit that a serious change in tack is needed to halt this crisis and there is no scope for complacency to set in.

"The fact remains that close to 3,700 children continue to live in emergency accommodation, their lives on hold, their health, wellbeing and development stunted,” she said.