Over 11,000 Northern Ireland households presented as homeless in just eight months last year, new figures show.
etween April and December 2020, 11,628 households were considered homeless, including more than 3,000 families, 1,200 pensioners and 6,548 individuals.
SDLP councillor Paul McCusker said the figures highlight the need to ensure families and individuals do not get caught up in the cycle of homelessness.
The Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, who works with the homeless, added: “These figures are stark but behind the figures are families, children and some of our most vulnerable citizens. Homelessness has never got the commitment from government on dealing with this crisis which has been like this for many years.
“The Department for Communities and Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) need to look at new models and strategies that will provide suitable housing for those who may wait years before they get an offer, with singles waiting longest.
“Until we find better ways on dealing with homelessness and breaking the cycle with providing better solutions, the impact of homelessness will only continue to get worse.”
Someone who is homeless may not necessarily be living on the streets. They may be defined as homeless and entitled to help for various reasons, including living in poor conditions that are damaging their health, staying in a hostel or at risk of violence if they stay in their home.
Jim Dennison, the chief executive of Simon Community NI, believes the Covid-19 pandemic has acted as the catalyst needed to bring about a better way to ending homelessness here. He added: “With recession, redundancies and the strains of family relationships expected in the aftermath of this pandemic, I predict that we will be looking at an even greater number of marginalised people claiming homelessness status in the near future.”
Shelter NI director Tony McQuillan said: “All politicians will attest a commitment to housing as a right, yet the promises for housing laid out in the New Decade New Approach agreement have not changed the situation for homeless people or people in housing need.
“We need a rapid increase in permanent housing funded by the government, greater regulation for the private rented sector and proper levels of investment in the provision of services to homeless people who need housing support.”
A Housing Executive spokesperson said; “From April to December 2020, the number of people presenting to us as homeless fell by almost 900, compared to the previous year.
“As part of our Covid-19 response, we secured an additional £7m from the Department for Communities to deal with any increased challenges on homelessness brought on by the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.
“This additional funding has supported a range of initiatives and enabled us to provide over 7,000 placements in temporary accommodation from April to October 2020.”
They said addressing homelessness remains a priority, but the Covid-19 crisis has brought challenges, particularly demand for temporary accommodation.”