PPR and the Homeless Action Group were joined by Green Party MLA, Steven Agnew to criticise recent comments made by the Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey MLA regarding the extent of homelessness in Northern Ireland. The Minister’s comments, made during a recent Assembly session revealed he estimated only “22 or 23” people are actually homeless.
The criticism is in response to a question tabled by Sinn Fein MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, in which the Minister challenged the Housing Executive’s official statistics which record around 4,600 households as homeless. Instead, the Minister suggested that only small numbers of people are “really homeless”.
Michael Moore, Project Worker with PPR who works as campaign organiser with people staying in hostel accommodation, commneted;
“It is deeply concerning that instead of taking concerted action to tackle homelessness the Minister seems intent on denying the extent of the problem.” “It is vital that the Minister refocuses his efforts on ensuring that homelessness is accurately assessed and that appropriate and urgent measures are taken to address it. Practical measures the Minister could take in this regard have been developed and proposed by people experiencing homelessness themselves in the Homeless Action Charter and we urge him to consider this.”
Mike Tate, a Homeless Action Group member who has himself experienced rough sleeping and long-term hostel residency, said:
“I have been homeless for 18 months, I’ve lived in hostels and slept rough on the streets – you might have a roof over your head but at the end of the day you’re still homeless. Is the Minister really saying that if I live in a hostel, I shouldn’t be classed as homeless? Hostels are cramped, stressful places to live on a temporary basis while sharing your living room, kitchen and so on with 20 other people- that aint a home”.
The Homeless Action Charter makes concrete and practical proposals about how the government could begin to end homelessness and has been endorsed by the Chief Commissioner at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby and has received cross party political support from MLAs including Steven Agnew MLA, from the Green Party.
Mr Agnew, echoed the concern expressed regarding the Minister’s comments;
“It is both misleading and deeply unhelpful to suggest that homelessness is merely the absence of shelter; there is a world of a difference between having a home and having ‘a place to crash’. I would urge the Minister to use his position to work constructively with those experiencing this problem to take steps in addressing it; narrowing the definition won’t help those who live with the reality of homelessness.”