Leading homeless charities tell Stormont committee no going back to “business as usual”.
Today, chief executives from Northern Ireland’s largest homeless service providers briefed the Committee for Communities on how they kept vital support services going during the coronavirus pandemic.
Through a joined-up response, the charities Simon Community NI, DePaul, Extern and First Housing came together to form the Homelessness Providers’ Group to ensure services to vulnerable families and individuals were kept open during the crisis.
The group is committed to working with the Housing Executive, connected Executive Departments, the Public Health Agency and the wider homeless sector to continue with the great achievements witnessed during this pandemic.
Presenting to the Committee for Communities, the group laid out five key areas that must be taken into consideration ahead of any second wave and the changes required to end homelessness forever.
These areas include:
- The link between health and homelessness to be recognised and funded, suggesting that the sector operates across both the Department for Communities and Department of Health remits.
- Homelessness service provision to be recognised as a complex and vital service responding to individuals with addiction needs, severe mental ill-health, life-limiting disability and poverty.
- Supporting People funding to move to a full cost recovery model to ensure delivery of a quality of service and in response to charities projected loss of income from external sources this year.
- A comprehensive review of services in partnership with providers and community groups to limit the accidental return to a ‘business as usual’ approach that wasn’t meeting the needs of those experiencing homelessness before lockdown.
- Recognition of frontline homelessness staff in a sector that has received no budgetary uplift for 13 years, making recruitment and retention near impossible.
Speaking about the achievements made over the past fifteen weeks, Jim Dennison, Chief Executive at Simon Community commented: “Much has been done in the last three and a half months through an integrated approach from housing, health and the voluntary sector to mitigate against the risks posed by the pandemic for our service users and frontline staff.
“The time is right to capitalise on these new opportunities and fund in a smarter way so that there can be no accidental return to the status quo when it comes to ending homelessness.”
Kevin Wright, First Housing Chief Executive explained: “Covid-19 has shown us that when called for organisations and sectors can be agile, flexible and innovative. It is now time to review what has been achieved, keep the best of those innovations and new ways of working, there can be no turning back.
“Over the past fifteen weeks we have achieved things that previously would have taken years. Our task now is to organise ourselves and have the determination to continue the learning and achievements for the benefit of those we serve.
“This clearly requires a commitment to move away from disjoined working which sustains disconnected policies and funding streams to a more streamlined and co-produced strategy.”
Depaul Chief Executive, David Carroll, added: “The workforce within the homeless sector has been to the forefront in protecting the most vulnerable in our society during Covid-19.
“There is no doubt that their dedication and commitment has saved lives in the process. I feel it is now time for Stormont and the Department for Communities to recognise and reward this commitment and to address Supporting People funding so we are able to not only retain these vital workers but to also attract people who have a passion for social care work.”
Danny McQuillan, Extern’s Director of Services, said: “The sector and the government came together to successfully manage the current coronavirus pandemic, thereby protecting some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in our community.
“We cannot afford to throw away this progress and we are calling on the government to continue this multi-agency and cross-departmental momentum and not return to previous failed homelessness policies and practices.”