Homlessness Awareness Week 2021

Members' Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin 12:00, 6 December 2021

Today marks the beginning of Homelessness Awareness Week, a day for all in Irish society to recommit our efforts to collaborate and work together with housing and homelessness organisations and charities, Departments and local councils to make housing delivery a priority and, subsequently, end homelessness for good. This year, the theme of the week is Start the Conversation. A host of organisations across the homeless sector, such as the Simon Community, Extern and the Welcome Organisation, will deliver a range of social, educational and awareness-raising events throughout our constituencies and encourage conversation in the workplace, schools and communities.

Four individuals kindly came together to the all-party group on homelessness in November. From listening to the voices of those who are affected by homelessness, it is clear that the line between having a home and not can change quite quickly for a person or family and that the paths in and out of homelessness are never straightforward. The personal stories were all unique, but, collectively, they highlighted the negative impact that homelessness can have on your physical and mental health, family relationships, educational opportunities and life chances. We must all act to improve outcomes for people who are experiencing homelessness in each of our communities. We must all work together to ensure that everyone has a home. That is a universal human right; a safe, permanent and affordable place to live, where one can settle down, feel part of their community and build a good life.

The homeless sector continues to play a vital role in society. Its incredible work and commitment has been particularly evident during the ongoing pandemic as it worked daily to protect homeless individuals, who are among the most vulnerable groups that are impacted by COVID-19. I am also immensely grateful to statutory partners, who, along with Minister Deirdre Hargey, have fully funded the homelessness reset plan and offered all people who were sleeping rough on the streets forms of emergency accommodation. I very much welcome the collaboration that was shown to work during the pandemic. That is a model of good practice going forward. It prioritises the voices of those with lived experience of homelessness and focuses on protecting high-risk groups. They have all shown throughout the pandemic what can be done with the collective will.

However, we know that it is a first step. We must not drive homeless people into the places that we find suitable but help them to find the places that they find suitable.

Later today, at the Homeless Connect event, schoolchildren will speak to us about their views on homelessness. It undoubtedly takes a society to combat homelessness, but, together with a shared political will and commitment, it can be done. It must be done to ensure everyone in the North has a place to call home.