Homeless Not Voiceless
Homeless Action: Human Rights, Homelessness & Change July 2019 0
â€œThat this council commends the #FDAnoDelay campaign and recognises that people living in hostels and other temporary/emergency accommodation across our society are homeless and deserve to be legally recognised as such by having Full Duty Applicant status awarded. This Council calls on the NIHE Chief Executive to respond outlining what measures the NIHE will now take to accurately audit the extent of the problem regarding homeless people who are not recognised as such and what steps will be taken to remedy these oversights.â€? Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon Borough Council (June 24th 2019) Derry City and Strabane District Council (June 27th 2019) Mid-Ulster Council June 27th 2019) Belfast City Council (proposed for debate 1st July 2019)
Homeless Action: Human rights monitoring
Indicator 1: Length of stay in â€˜temporaryâ€™ accommodation
Indicator 2: Repeat homelessness
Indicator 3: Homeless with no FDA status
Issue 4: Mental health impacts of homelessness
Introduction: Homeless Not Voiceless In December last year, Homeless Not Voiceless launched our #FDAnoDelay campaign. Full Duty Applicant status is given to people who are homeless and need to be given priority attention. Without this, you don’t have a hope of moving out of hostels into anywhere safe or secure. But there are scores of people in hostels without FDA status. Whatever the reason, this is unacceptable. To date, three Councils have commended the #FDAnoDelay campaign and formally called on the Housing Executive to give FDA status to everyone in hostels. We will continue to build support for #FDAnoDelay until this obvious wrong is righted. But just getting FDA status will not guarantee someone an end to their anxiety, insecurity, vulnerability and homelessness. There are currently 19,629 ‘households’ (individuals or families) homeless in our society. This includes 15,143 children under the age of 18. In 2017-18 the NI Executive built only 1,507 new social homes. That is the problem. In this report we put forward ideas on how to start dealing with the root causes of homelessness. We really hope decision makers who have the power to make our ideas a reality will work with us. But we won’t be waiting.
Housing Rights States parties “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions”. The human right to adequate housing, which is thus derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, is of central importance for the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 4, para. 7 (1991)
the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head or views shelter exclusively as a commodity. Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity... As both the Commission on Human Settlements and the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 have stated: ‘Adequate shelter means ... adequate privacy, adequate space, adequate security, adequate lighting and ventilation, adequate basic infrastructure and adequate location with regard to work and basic facilities - all at a reasonable cost’. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 4, para. 7 (1991)
The Reality Summary The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, undertook a mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 5 to 16 November 2018. Although the United Kingdom is the world’s fifth largest economy, one fifth of its population (14 million people) live in poverty, and 1.5 million of them experienced destitution in 2017. Policies of austerity introduced in 2010 continue largely unabated, despite the tragic social consequences. Close to 40 per cent of children are predicted to be living in poverty by 2021.Food banks have proliferated; homelessness and rough sleeping have increased greatly; tens of thousands of poor families must live in accommodation far from their schools, jobs and community networks; life expectancy is falling for certain groups; and the legal aid system has been decimated. The social safety net has been badly damaged by drastic cuts to local authorities ’budgets, which have eliminated many social services, reduced policing services, closed libraries in record numbers, shrunk community and youth centres and sold off public spaces and buildings. The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos. A booming economy, high employment and a budget surplus have not reversed austerity, a policy pursued more as an ideological than an economic agenda. Visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights’, UN Human Rights Council, Forty-first session (24 June-12 July 2019) As of 31 March 2019 there were 19,629 households with Full Duty Applicant homeless status, up 12% from the previous year’s figure of 17,520 FDA households. At least 15,143 children under the age of 18 lived in FDA homeless households, up 33% from the previous year’s figure of 11,372. Housing Executive figures obtained by Freedom of Information request. 5
“During 2017-18 there were 1,507 Social Housing Development Programme (SHDP) new dwelling completions...” ‘The Northern Ireland Housing Statistics 2017-2018’, Department for Communities
Homeless Action: Human rights monitoring From June – October 2018, PPR supported people experiencing homelessness and living in hostels/temporary accommodation projects to develop and carry out a human rights monitoring survey with 100 other people living in similar conditions. The research focused on people’s experiences of trying to transition out of homelessness, the impact this process had on their physical and mental health as well as the number of times people had previously experienced homelessness. The four key concerns which emerged from Homeless Not Voiceless’ analysis of the results were: the long periods of time people were being forced to stay in ‘temporary’ hostel accommodation, the experience of repeat homelessness, the denial of Full Duty Applicant status to patently homeless people, effectively preventing any progress in their housing application the mental health impacts of homelessness The recommendations listed in this report were drawn together following discussions with people staying in hostels/temporary accommodation across Belfast, Derry, Newry, Coleraine, Lisburn, Armagh, Portadown and many other towns and cities.
Gary Middleton, DUP MLA supporting #FDAnoDelay
Over the next 12 months Homeless Not Voiceless will monitor the actions of public authorities from duty-bearers with both legal obligations and powers to progressively realise their right to housing.
Indicator 1: Length of stay in ‘temporary’ accommodation Length of time in your current situation?
Less than 6 months 0%
Over two-thirds of respondents had been homeless for more than six months. Almost one-third had been homeless for over one year.
When a permanent home is not available, the Housing Executive allocates people temporary accommodation “appropriate to their circumstances and with the necessary level of support”1. An explicit objective of the Chronic Homelessness Action plan (April 2019-March 2022) is to “make the stay in temporary accommodation as short as possible”, and it sets out a principle of ‘rapid re-housing’ to settled mainstream housing2. 1
NIHE Homelessness Strategy 2017-2022, p. 21 and related support as committed under ‘Helping Claimants who are Vulnerable’ Working Group; DFC, Inter-Departmental Homelessness Action Plan, p. 19 2 NIHE Chronic Homelessness Action Plan, pp. 3, 26.
Rapid re-housing should involve the “provision of rapid assessment and support planning... [resulting in] provision of a settled mainstream housing option as quickly as possible and time spent in temporary accommodation is reduced to a minimum, with minimal transitions. When temporary accommodation is needed, the optimum type is mainstream, furnished and within the community”3.
Martina Anderson, Sinn Fein MEP supporting #FDAnoDelay
The Housing Executive uses several types of temporary accommodation4. Housing Executive figures for 2015/16 showed that the average ‘temporary’ stay in voluntary sector hostels was 38 weeks5; in February 2019, the Housing Executive reported that the average length of stay in temporary accommodation had risen to 40.6 weeks6.
Acknowledging this as an issue, the Homelessness Strategy sets “average length of time spent in temporary accommodation” as an indicator under its objective “to secure sustainable accommodation and appropriate support solutions for homeless households”7 and refers to the forthcoming Strategic Review of Temporary Accommodation.
Increase the supply of social housing. The most rapid response to homelessness is to build homes. We support the Build Homes Now campaign to zone and secure new social housing on key sites across Belfast. We believe this initiative
bid. P.26 Housing Executive hostels, Voluntary Sector hostels, Single Lets, Dispersed Intensively Managed Accommodation (DIME), and Short-term B&B or similar. Homelessness Strategy, p. 21. 5 Homelessness Strategy, p. 33 6 Minutes of People and Communities Committee meeting (Belfast City Council), 5 Feb 2019 at https://minutes3.belfastcity.gov.uk/documents/g9149/Public%20reports%20pack%2004th-Mar2019%2018.00%20Council.pdf?T=10, pp. 55-56. 7 Objective 2. Homelessness Strategy, p. 17. 4
should be expanded to other council areas outside of Belfast, particularly in areas with high concentrations of homelessness. ii.
Use the forthcoming Strategic Review of Temporary Accommodation to: Extend the NIHE ‘rapid re-housing’ initiative to all homeless people, not just those deemed to be in chronic homelessness Increase numbers of move-on flats as a bridge transition out of temporary and into permanent accommodation
Introduce legislation permitting the introduction of rent controls, learning from the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016
Indicator 2: Repeat homelessness How many times have you been homeless before?8
24% Once Twice 3+
41 of the 100 homeless people surveyed reported that they had been homeless before. More than half of those who responded had been homeless on three or more occasions. None of the respondents said that they had been made any suitable offers of accommodation by the Housing Executive.
The Housing Executive has set the “number of instances of repeat homelessness” as an indicator in their Homelessness Strategy.9 Repeat homelessness is defined as “any case where the previous application had been closed less than 12 months before the current homeless application”. This is an arbitrary way to measure homelessness which records the length of time between periods of
The 41 respondents broke down as follows: 1 (8), 2 (10), 3 (6), 4 (3), 5 (2), 7 (1), “A few” (4), “Lost count” (1), “No answer” (6) 9 Homelessness Strategy, p. 17.
homelessness, instead of the number of times someone is actually homelessness. Nevertheless it reported a decrease from 1,531 cases in 2015/16 to 1,016 (equal to 5.6% of all cases) in 2017/1810. The Housing Executive adopted the definition of the ‘chronic homeless’ as “a group of individuals with very pronounced and complex support needs who found it difficult to exit from homelessness”11 and has developed the action plan currently under consultation to address their situation. For this group it supports a Housing First model of housing-led provision of services, at present only at pilot project stage12. Under this model, “housing should be made available even if a homeless person refuses treatment for their substance misuse or mental health issues. A ‘harm reduction’ approach is adopted rather than a requirement of abstinence as a condition of tenancy”. 13
Increase the supply of social housing. The most rapid response to homelessness is to build homes. We support the Build Homes Now campaign to zone and secure new social housing on key sites across Belfast. We believe this initiative should be expanded to other council areas outside of Belfast, particularly in areas with high concentrations of homelessness.
Increase numbers of move-on flats as a bridge transition out of temporary and into permanent accommodation.
Expand the Housing First model of housing-led provision, currently only available on a pilot basis in two locations.
NIHE FOI response of 8 November 2018; also NIHE, Homelessness strategy 2017-22 annual progress report 2017-18 at https://touch.nihe.gov.uk/homelessness_annual_progress_report_2017-18.pdf, p. 4. 11 Annual progress report, p. 25. 12 Chronic homelessness action plan, pp. 16, 18, 27. 13 DOH, “Options Paper – improving access to primary health care and other health and social care services for individuals who are homeless”, 18 Oct 2018 at https://www.healthni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/Final-report-of-task-and-finish-group-re-homelessness-andaccess-to-HCS_2.pdf p. 8.
Indicator 3: Homeless with no FDA status
“On one day, 25 July 2018, in hostels run by one voluntary organisation only, there were 78 cases of homeless individuals without FDA status.” SDLP MLA supporting #FDAnoDelay
Under Housing (NI) Order 1988, art. 10(2), the Housing Executive has a duty to “secure that accommodation becomes available” to a person found to meet four eligibility criteria. These persons have what is called, Full Duty Applicant (FDA) status FDA homeless status carries an award of 70 points under the Housing Selection Scheme. While awaiting permanent accommodation, people with FDA status are entitled to temporary accommodation, though not all FDA families avail of this; some choose rather to make temporary arrangements of their own, such as staying with friends or family. Families that do not take up the Housing Executive’s offer of temporary accommodation retain their FDA homeless status and can decide to take up the offer at any time14; the Housing Executive has the same duty to them as it does to those in temporary accommodation. In this way, ‘people in temporary accommodation’ is only a subset of those recognised as homeless by the Housing Executive. Similarly, those recognised by the Housing Executive as having FDA status are only a subset of those who are actually homeless. “Number of FDA duties discharged” is a strategy indicator15.In 2013/14, just over half of ‘homeless presenters’ were given FDA status; in 2017/18 this had risen to 65%16. According to the Housing Executive, the increase “is reflective of the increasing complexity and vulnerability associated with homeless households”17. Despite the rise, concerns remain that the method for awarding FDA status leaves some people who are patently homeless, with nowhere else to go but a hostel, without official recognition.
Freedom of Information request, 8 Apr 2019. Homelessness Strategy, p. 17. 16 Annual progress report and homelessness strategy, appendix one, tables 1 and 4. 17 Annual progress report, p. 5. 15
Housing Executive criteria to determine FDA status: The person must be: -
homeless or threatened with homelessness a ‘priority need’, for instance through vulnerability, the risk of violence or emergency. homeless ‘unintentionally’ eligible for assistance.
In a snapshot of Housing Executive records from 25 June 2018 there were 19 cases of people living in shelters “in which the application has not, or not yet, been awarded 70 points for FDA Homelessness under the Housing Selection Scheme”18. In a snapshot of the same data on 21 March 2019, there were fewer than ten such cases in Housing Executive records19. However, records held by the voluntary sector paint a different picture. On one day, 25 July 2018, in hostels run by one voluntary organisation only, there were 78 cases of homeless individuals without FDA status. These discrepancies are deeply concerning. The system proposed in the Chronic Homelessness Action Plan is based on people with FDA status meeting at least three of a set of seven additional criteria. The plan makes reference to ‘hidden homelessness’20, but not to homeless people refused FDA status.
How will it address chronic homelessness amongst those who have not made it past the first hurdle?
Provide an assessment for FDA status within one week of a person arriving at a hostel
If such an assessment is not available within one week, automatically grant full FDA status pending assessment
29 Jun 2018 FOI response from NIHE. In some of these, the Housing Executive explained, decisions were still pending; others had been served notice that their homelessness application had been turned down or had requested a review of that decision; and finally, others had been served notice that the duty to them had been discharged. 19 4 Apr 2019 FOI response from NIHE. 20 Chronic Homeless Action Plan, p. 10.
Issue 4: Mental health impacts of homelessness Does your living situation make your/your familyâ€™s mental health worse?
29% of these said it was only mental health that was affected, not physical health. People who reported that their mental health was affected were: -
more likely than the wider survey population to say that their accommodation did not meet their needs (65%, as against only 53% of the wider survey population)
more likely to report feeling unsafe in their home/communal areas (44%, as against 34%)
more likely to report problems to their landlords (48%, as against 38%) and less likely to be happy with the response they got (34%, as against 38%)
more likely to report going without the basics to meet their housing costs (38% as against 34%).
The Inter-Departmental Homelessness Action Plan identifies “health and wellbeing, including mental health and substance misuse” as a priority area21.In addition to recognising particular health needs amongst homeless people, the Department of Health here has acknowledged that they face barriers in accessing mainstream health care services22 and “difficulties in completing registration processes and navigating the healthcare system”23. In a positive step, the Housing First model – currently at pilot project stage – does not make accommodation contingent on prior treatment for addiction or mental ill health. Another pilot project, with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, is to pool public health and voluntary sector health services for homeless people in a Healthcare Hub24.
“My mental health really restricts my everyday life and I need help and I feel there is nothing I can do” Survey respondent
Recommendations i. Expand use of the Housing First model of housing-led provision. ii. Increase targeted mental health provision for homeless people iii. Make prescription services available the Healthcare Hub, to facilitate provision of required medicines to homeless people, who are frequently not registered with a GP practice. Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit MLA supporting #FDAnoDelay
Inter-Departmental Homelessness Action Plan, p. 11. The DOH, HSCB and PHA are the agencies responsible for the action “to identify barriers faced by people who are homeless in accessing health and social care services, with a view to improving access to those services”. 22 DOH, “Healthcare hub to transform services for the homeless”, 18 Oct 2018 at https://www.healthni.gov.uk/news/healthcare-hub-transform-services-homeless 23 DOH, “Options Paper – improving access to primary health care and other health and social care services for individuals who are homeless”, 18 Oct 2018 at https://www.healthni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/Final-report-of-task-and-finish-group-re-homelessness-andaccess-to-HCS_2.pdf p. 2. 24 DOH, “Healthcare hub to transform services for the homeless”, 18 Oct 2018 at https://www.healthni.gov.uk/news/healthcare-hub-transform-services-homeless
A research report documenting the human rights impacts experienced by homeless people across 22 hostels from 2018 - 2019
Published on Jul 1, 2019
A research report documenting the human rights impacts experienced by homeless people across 22 hostels from 2018 - 2019