Homelessness Awareness Week 2021

Members' Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15, 6 December 2021

As we have already heard, this is Homelessness Awareness week. This year's theme is Start the Conversation, so it is appropriate to have the conversation here today to remind us of our duty as MLAs and the work that we have to do to eradicate homelessness.

Homelessness is an issue that can hit anyone anywhere. The average person is just two pay cheques away from homelessness. Many people walk a very fine line and live from payday to payday, and that tightrope has become even more precarious due to the pandemic. It was also during the pandemic that the importance of having somewhere to call home was never more pronounced. Access to a safe and secure home is the foundation that people build their lives on. Nobody should have to sleep on the street, call a hostel room their home or have their family scattered across several locations while they languish on a list.

The impact of homelessness is not only damaging people now; it is risking their future opportunities. We cannot accept that as normal, but it is. This year, from July to September, over 4,000 households presented as homeless, and nearly 2,500 of those were deemed to be in priority need. However, homes were only sourced for 122 of those applicants. That leaves over 2,000 families or households in priority need being failed, not just by a lack of stock but a lack of strategy and ambition. We must never lose sight of the human stories behind these statistics. Families are rendered homeless for myriad reasons, such as overcrowding, affordability, family breakdown, disability or poverty. We cannot tolerate a system or a society that fails people so badly.

The Department for Communities acted swiftly and decisively to ensure that no one slept on our streets during the pandemic, and it deserves huge credit for that, as do the tremendous organisations across the North — Ms Ferguson mentioned a few — that are dedicated to tackling homelessness. However, there is more to doing that than simply putting a roof over someone's head. Supporting People projects should be funded more to help to address the deeper-rooted issues that cause chronic homelessness. We have heard plenty about the Minister's radical housing transformation plans, but, sadly, we have not seen much of it in effect yet. The thousands of families on waiting lists do not have time to wait. We call on the Minister to act now.