Homeless Action – a group of people experiencing homelessness in Northern Ireland – staged the launch of their Homeless Action Charter outside the offices of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) today (16th September 2014).

The Homeless Action Charter calls on the departments of the NI Executive to take four simple steps to begin to begin ending homelessness, including:

  1. the introduction of individual ‘Support Pathways’ for every homeless person which ensures that they receive the housing, health, employment and educational support they require to move back into permanent accommodation
  2. an overhaul of how homeless people are assessed for the housing waiting list to ensure they receive the appropriate number of points that reflect their circumstances
  3. a change in the way the government currently records repeat homelessness (i.e. homeless more than once) so that the true extent of the problem is understood and measures taken to address
  4. ring-fenced social housing units for people moving out of homelessness, concentrated in areas experiencing high levels of homelessness, to be included in annual social housing development programme

The launch of the Homeless Action Charter comes in the wake of housing rights research carried out by Homeless Action with people currently living in Simon Community NI projects.

Their research found that  despite the NIHE policy stating that people’s stay in ‘transitional accommodation’ should be ‘time limited’ to avoid homelessness becoming ‘entrenched’, 51% of people surveyed had stayed in hostel for more than 6 months, with 31% having stayed more than one year. It also found that although the government state that repeat homelessness runs at 9%, 45% of survey participants said they had been homeless more than once.

The Charter being launched today is aimed at getting to grips with these problems and developing a people-centered approach which addresses both administrative problems and root causes of homelessness.

As well as launching the Charter, Homeless Action submitted 13 individual letters to the Chiref Executive of the NIHE outlining how the existing system has failed homeless individuals. These include:

  • A mother of five who is still waiting for the family to receive their first offer of housing from NIHE after 29 months. Her four sons have shared a single bedroom during this time, with two sharing one bed. She is one of 6 group members who have so far spent more than 2 years homeless in unsuitable temporary accommodation.
  • Several residents trying to challenge claims of “intentional homelessness.” In one such case the resident has spent over a year in hostels without progress after returning to find his home destroyed.
  • One was taken through three unnecessary homeless assessments over a period of 11 months when contacting NIHE to try and advance his original application. He has been unable to make any progress towards a home.

All of the individuals are looking for their situations to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Mike Tate, 43, said:

“I’ve been forced to live in hostels for over a year now without decent sleep and recently without hot water. When I presented as homeless the Housing Executive told me I wasn’t priority and I wouldn’t get homeless points. I’ve faced setbacks with not being able to afford private rent, which sets you into a spiral of depression. Government need to change the points system and recognise all homeless people as having rights and a priority need for housing.”

Francine McComb, 31, said:

“I had to move myself and my daughter to a hostel because of the traumatic time we had in the house I was renting. It was declared unfit by Environmental Health and the landlord put it up for sale. I’ve been on priority need points for years now but I haven’t received a single outright offer from the Housing Executive and they’ve recently told me not to expect any. I think they should scrap the points system as it’s failing to help those in need.”

Homeless Action will now be bringing their Charter to local MLAs, members of the Social Development Committee, and the Minister for Social Development in order to get their proposals implemented.

Homeless Action is a group of people experiencing homelessness who access the services of Simon Community NI, the largest provider of services to homeless people in Northern Ireland. Homeless Action emerged from a partnership between SCNI and Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation. For more information see www.simoncommunity.org and www.pprproject.org

A delegation from Homeless Action met with United Nations Special Rappoteur for Housing Ms Raquel Rolnik in September 2013 during her official mission to the UK.