Seanad Éireann - Volume 106 - 12 December, 1984
Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mrs. McGuinness Mrs. McGuinness
Mrs. McGuinness: I wish to take this opportunity of speaking on this Bill to express my support of the terms of the Bill, which, in fact, I have been one of the sponsors of. I particularly wish to support all the efforts which have been made by my colleague Senator Brendan Ryan in presenting this Bill, all the background information to the Bill and in highlighting the plight of homeless people in Ireland, in particular highlighting the fact that there is no end responsibility, as  it were, for dealing with the problem of homelessness and we are left in the position where each institution or statutory authority passes responsibility to another.
It is interesting — I make no apology for going back to something which was emphasised by Senator Ryan in his original speech on the Bill about a year ago — that this Bill has received support from so many voluntary groups of all sorts who deal with the homeless, the elderly homeless and the young homeless, the boys and girls who are now sleeping rough. All those voluntary bodies are, in fact, putting in the vast majority of effort in dealing with homeless persons at the moment, because 90 per cent of the actual beds provided for homeless people are provided through voluntary bodies rather than through the State. These people have the experience of dealing with the problem and they have the right to speak about it. It is very interesting and important that they have expressed their support of this Bill. They are extremely concerned with the need to do something about the problem of homelessness.
The Bill and the body of information that lies behind it has been based on firsthand research, much of it carried out by these voluntary bodies. It gives an opportunity for the creation of a partnership between the State and the voluntary bodies of a kind which repeatedly has been advocated by various Ministers for Health and Social Welfare over the years. Indeed, one of the primary aims of the National Social Service Board, which used to be the National Social Service Council, was to arrange co-operation between voluntary and statutory bodies in this kind of area. It would be an extremely good example in the whole area of care for deprived and oppressed persons if we could move into a situation where we could have a fruitful partnership between the voluntary and statutory bodies, where there would be a responsibility, where the State would be prepared to provide on a reasonable level for the care of homeless people and where, really in principle, there would be  a statutory responsibility for the housing of people who do not have homes; they would no longer be allowed to fall through the gaps in the services, as it were.
We have had numerous examples over the past year, even since the Bill was introduced, of the vulnerability, the difficulties associated with poverty and age, poverty and unemployment and poverty and youth which give rise to homelessness. We have seen most often in recent weeks how very vulnerable old people, for instance, even where they have housing and are living alone, can be. People who have no homes are perhaps some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and therefore, people for whose care we have a primary responsibility.
Some of the reports relied on by Senator Ryan were reports from the Simon Community, with which he is most closely involved, but, even since he originally introduced the Bill, there has been further evidence from organisations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, ALONE, HOPE and so on which spell out even more the extent of this problem and the difficulties suffered by those who are homeless.
To respond to homelessness with the provisions of the Vagrancy Act, 1824 is an insult rather than an answer. To suggest that by criminalising homelessness, by making it a chargeable offence, as it were, we will do away with it is to go back to the worst excesses of the poor law system. Even under the poor law system there was a framework of workhouse accommodation which has gradually been whittled away because in various areas of the country the county homes have simply ceased to provide wards for casual people, wards for the homeless, so that there is an enormous variation from county to county, from health board area to health board area and from local authority area to local authority area as to what is in fact provided and what is not provided for homeless people.
The closing of the facilities in county homes for homeless people, as happened for instance in Carlow, can in a provincial  town like that give rise to a problem of homelessness which was not so acute beforehand. All this is allowed to fall back on the voluntary bodies. Some of these voluntary bodies, of course, receive grants from the State to help them in their work, but it certainly has turned out to be a cheaper alternative for the State and for the community as a whole to say: “ah, well, we will give the odd grant to the voluntary organisations and they will look after this problem” rather than accepting that even through the county homes system or through the health boards system some kind of provision of a home for homeless people should be made.
Many homeless people at present spend their nights in hostels. There are good and bad hostels, but hostels are not an ideal form of accommodation and certainly would not be regarded as a first priority by people who were asked what sort of a home they wanted. If any of us were asked about this problem and if we thought about it as affecting our own lives, there is no doubt about it that we would put a great value on having a real home for ourselves, however small. To spend one's nights in hostel accommodation, particularly when on almost all occasions these hostels insist on the people who stay there during the night leaving during the day and spending their day wandering in the streets, is a very low grade form of accommodation. Even that, of course, does not cover all the people who need beds for the night. I do not think it would be a sufficient response to say that if we could produce enough hostel accommodation that will be enough. We need to look a good deal further into it and try to produce some much more real solution in providing a real form of accommodation for homeless people, whether they are young or old.
There is the basic difficulty that neither the local authorities nor the health boards have a final responsibility for housing a homeless person in this country, and there are enormous variations in their approach. Some will use the excuse that they have not got any housing available  for single persons, only housing available for families. Others, perhaps, will go to considerable lengths to provide housing and accommodation for such people. The real difficulty is that there is no final responsibility and that so often in different areas the buck passes so quickly from one statutory authority to another that it can hardly be seen by the naked eye. Also, we must contrast what we have failed to do in this country with what has been done in other countries. In Britain and in the other countries in the EC very considerable advances have been made.
There is one particular example that I would like to give of what can be done where responsibility is established. That is in the city of New York, a city which, Senators know, has suffered considerable financial difficulties in the past few years, so that we cannot sit back and say: “that is a rich authority whereas this is a poor country”. There is no doubt that the city of New York has been practically in liquidation on several occasions because of its financial problems. Therefore, when we see how much they can spend and think worthwhile spending on the provision of accommodation for the homeless this should make us pause.
In the present financial year New York city is spending $58.8 million on services to homeless individuals, which is a 600 per cent increase on what they did in 1978. In the fiscal year of 1985 they will be spending in current expenditure $75.9 million, which is added to a capital expenditure of $27.4 million, that is well over $100 million for provision for homeless people in New York city. If you take comparable population figures with this country that would be at least £10 million in a year for us.
This is a real commitment for provision of proper decent accommodation for homeless people. Part of the reason for that is that it was established legally that there was a right to shelter and a right to accommodation, that it was part of the human rights of the ordinary person. Therefore, a responsibility was created whereby the authority must provide housing. This is what has been lacking  here. We do not see this as a human right although it is certainly arguable that it is the kind of unenumerated human right that one might have in the Constitution, the right to a home. It is largely because we have not got this feeling of responsibility for provision that we do not make provision. The Bill before the House is directed at this. Without going any further into the detail of the matter I would like to express my absolute support for the Bill and to direct the attention of the Minister to the acute problem that exists and to the fact that there is really no bottom line, no responsibility for dealing with people in this situation and that these are a genuinely oppressed class within our society and one for which we have a moral, if not a constitutional responsibility.
Mr. Deenihan Mr. Deenihan
Mr. Deenihan: Like previous speakers I feel that one of our greatest social evils is the problem of the homeless. These people exist on the fringe of society and live as social outcasts. They invariably are wretchedly poor, are socially and economically isolated, usually cut off from family ties and are not always supported by statutory agencies, as has been pointed out. The assistance given by health boards and housing authorities is clearly inadequate.
The plight of the homeless must not be dependant on voluntary housing organisations as the scale of the problem is well beyond their financial capacity. The responsibility for the homeless must rest directly with local authorities. That is not to say that the various voluntary groups should be made redundant, rather that their role should be strengthened. They have built up over the years a wealth of experience in dealing with homeless people. I believe this can be put to very good use in any future arrangement. I see their role in the future as an extension of their previous commitment, helping in their social and personal development.
Once the homeless are housed such organisations could be engaged in support groups, helping the homeless to integrate into the community. The day centres, having shed the responsibility  for accommodation, would offer a more streamlined and sophisticated service to the homeless. The day centres could evolve into social centres. I support the Bill and the idea that local authorities are to be responsible agencies for housing homeless people.
I would like to refer to the Glasgow model. The Glasgow model, which has proved to be so successful, might offer a solution to the problem. Here homeless people were put on the housing waiting list after a fair points system was devised. Existing hostels were greatly improved and a council for the single homeless was established. Ireland stands alone in Europe as being the only country which does not have a clear statutory provision for the homeless. I believe that a fair housing policy would solve the many social problems which afflict the homeless. Alcoholism, illness, psychiatric difficulties, unemployment, personal and social inadequacies probably exist because of the dreadful living conditions the homeless must endure rather than the converse.
I would like to refer briefly to the growing problem of youth homelessness. This a problem that we will have to face sooner rather than later. The Irish environment, especially the larger urban centres, has been characterised by dramatic change over the last decade. Over this period social factors, particularly changes to the traditional family unit compounded by economic factors, notably a marked increase in unemployment have created conditions where youth homelessness is now a growing problem facing our people.
The causes of youth homelessness are not readily definable. Many factors can be identified as contributing to a young person's homeless status but no single factor can be isolated as a sole cause. The causes of youth homelessness can be expected to be complex and interrelated. Recent surveys indicate that homelessness has many causes. Among the factors identified as contributing to youth homelessness are young person's economic situation, which is the product  of youth unemployment, which is steadily increasing, and uncertainty of income benefits, where people under 18 cannot receive any social benefits, low level of benefits for persons over 18, together with crisis factors such as the loss of jobs or a waiting period for benefits.
I would like to refer to youth access to the housing market. I feel that there is prejudice against young people by landlords and estate agents as regards granting them accommodation. The high cost of the rent of flats and private houses is definitely prohibitive, as well as that the availability of public housing to young people.
I would like to refer to part 3 of the recent National Youth Policy Committee Report. They point out this problem that I am talking about here. I would like to quote from section 13 (3) (ii):
The plight of the homeless generally has been well established. It is estimated that there are about 3,000 homeless of all ages in the State of whom about 200 sleep rough. The majority are in hostels or night shelters. The homeless class of people were earlier seen as consisting mainly of men over 40 but there is now a new class of young homeless persons, boys and girls. We are anxious that this disturbing fact should be borne in mind by the Government when formulating a national youth policy. We have received evidence of those sleeping rough in Dublin that in June 1983, 61 were under 40 and 11 were under 18 years of age. Every night between five and seven young people and more in the 30 to 40 age group call at a night shelter of an organisation who submitted evidence to us. In Cork we have received evidence of the soup run organised by the same organisation to people sleeping rough which in 1983 identified ten children sleeping rough and 50 under age of 30. In Dundalk the same organisation accommodated 24 people under the age of 35 in the year 1983. In Galway there is one night shelter for 15 men and for women. There are two refuges for six families.
 In the year 1983 a young homeless class appeared there.
That supports my case for young homeless people.
The problem should be faced immediately. It could escalate, especially with the increasing problem of unemployment and the seeming breakdown of the traditional family unit. It should be nipped in the bud before it escalates into a major social problem. I would like the Minister to consider those points.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: This Bill was first introduced by Senator Ryan in November 1983, which is an indication of the slow progress, if any, that it has made in this House. It certainly is not a lack of commitment on behalf of Senator Ryan or indeed of the Government that so far we have not been able to deal with this legislation effectively or amend it if necessary. The preferable alternative for me and even for the Senator, quoting a previous speech of his, is that the Government would come in with effective legislation in this area.
At the outset I would like — it is important that all of us do this — to compliment Senator Ryan and the Simon Community, with whom he has direct association, on their social consciousness in this tragic area of Irish life, that is the area of homeless people. People who have contributed so far to this Bill, whether they are Ministers of State or Members from all sides of the House, agree that as a matter of principle it is now socially unacceptable that this tragedy of homeless people should be allowed to continue indefinitely. It is of paramount importance to all of us that legislation should be initiated in this area. We are led to believe that in the Department of the Environment a Bill is at an advanced stage. I have been told that for a period of almost 12 months and I am still patiently waiting to see the legislation.
In the absence of this legislation it is only appropriate that those of us who have a Bill before us should address ourselves to the Bill. I commend Senator Ryan for the spirit of the Bill. I know he  will accept that, as a member of a local authority with a statutory responsibility for housing people, and also a member of a health board with other statutory responsibilities, I have a concern in this area. I will put my few comments on the record of the House.
First of all, I find it difficult to come to grips with Senator Ryan's terminology of homeless. Reading the document that was submitted by the Simon Community in their case for initiating an Act to cover homeless people, apart altogether from housing them, it is obvious that in the area of homelessness they can be treated under the existing law as being in some way criminal by the fact that they are without a home. In the opening document on that on page 1 they refer to the very serious problem and they say that homelessness has always been a feature of Irish society. That is an indictment on all of us. It is something that we should take very seriously. I hope that in the discussion of this Bill, or indeed any Bill, we would legislate in the knowledge that for some reason since the foundation of the State and going back into the old era of the British occupation here homelessness seems to have been a feature of Irish society.
It goes on to say that present surveys give us some idea of the extent of the problem, the causes of homelessness and some of the reasons why it becomes a poverty trap that is hard to break out of. There are some amazing statistics that, in fairness to the Simon Community, we should put on the record of the House which will give us the context in which we are looking at the legislation.
They say that it is their contention that there are significant numbers of homeless people in the country. This is not a historically new phenomenon. In 1708 cells were erected in the Dublin House of Industry for the insane poor, which is a reference to my previous comment that because people are homeless they are considered to be outlaws in some way or another. In 1708 they were considered to be insane poor. They were chained and fettered. In 1817, a hundred years afterwards, the country was divided into  mental hospital districts with lunatic asylums established and many were filled with vagrants — the same process and the same attitude to these people. Repeated parliamentary commissions throughout the nineteenth century investigated the plight of the poor, the beggars and the vagrants. In 1851 the RIC — we have many historic references to those — were charged with compiling censuses on lunatics, idiots and those in asylums, prisons. workhouses and wandering abroad. I presume wandering abroad refers to wandering on the roadway.
In 1871 70,202 fitted into this category of whom 7,000 were at large. These are amazing statistics and they are all documented. The word “at large” means that they were wandering and walking around with nobody taking any interest in them. Homelessness, they contend, was not a new phenomenon. It has been a social feature of Irish history throughout recorded time. It is very important that we would seriously look at what Senator Ryan has been trying to do in this area and make a valued judgment on whether the legislation he has initiated here will meet some of the problems that he has outlined.
I am still at a loss to understand what his definition of homeless is. It is simple to say it is someone without a home. If I try to reason with that, if it is someone without a home, is it someone who has a home but has left home? Is it somebody who, because of family circumstances and acceptance in the community, or for some reason, is unable to get on the housing list and is without a home? In a section of the Bill he talks about homelessness or threatened homelessness. We all know that, in compiling local authority housing lists, many people try to improve their position on housing lists by becoming threatened to be evicted out of their existing accommodation. If the words “threatened homelessness” be abused there is no doubt that this legislation, worthy and all as the principles involved in it might be, would create widespread havoc with the existing housing list throughout the local authority areas.
 Local authorities that I have any dealings with in urban areas and corporations have priority lists for rehousing people and they house single people. In some areas they house unmarried mothers. In some other areas they try to evict them. In county council areas they do not have a priority list but they have a system of investigation of applicants at particular times. In my county we have a three month review of our housing list. That list is compiled by officers of the health board acting on behalf of the county council, investigating people's circumstances. For the 17 years that I have been a member of a local authority the first requirement to be rehoused is to be living in an unfit house. I am worried if a husband, wife and six children are living in an unfit house with the roof leaking and no toilet or bathroom facilities, no running water, no concrete floors, clay on the floors, absolute unacceptable standards in anybody's terminology that that husband and wife and six children would somehow by this legislation be not on the top of the list, that the person who was termed in the Bill to be homeless would have first priority. I am not the one to make the decision in the first instance. It would be an investigating officer from the health board on behalf of the local authority.
The second category that are chosen are people living in overcrowded conditions. It goes down along. We have a set of regulations under the Housing Act that we try to meet. We do this in a very thorough fashion to try to ensure fair play and that people who need a house in the family situation will get it. In adopting that process a lot of progress is being made by local authorities under this Government and under previous Governments. Under this Government I am pleased to say that millions of pounds have been invested in the building of a very high standard of local authority houses throughout the country.
We have made tremendous inroads on housing lists, even housing people who are unmarried but in need of a house. I am accepting that people without a home should be housed. I am trying to decide  the priority in which people should be placed. If somebody is without a home I have to know the reason first of all. It may be that they just decided to leave their own home, to go away, to abdicate or it may be illness, alcoholism or any other social problem that has created the traumatic upheaval in their life that puts them on the road. Then I have to consider that they are men of the road; they are on the roads day and night; they try to get food where they can; they try to get work where they can; they try to get shelter of some description. It is in this area that there is a major responsibility to do something.
If people in those categories are on the move continuously — and my experience as a member of a health board is that they are generally on the move and want to be on the move — how can we accommodate them by building houses for them. In fact they would probably be gone out of the house the following day or the following week and, if so, is that house to be kept specifically for somebody else who comes along the way or do I house an unmarried mother in it with a child or two children or do I house an old person who can no longer survive in a three or four-bedroomed house who will surrender that house to the local authority for a smaller house? As a housing authority member do I have a responsibility to build isolated houses to take care of homeless persons who are on the road but do not want to be pinned down to a particular area? If that is what Senator Ryan's Bill is trying to do then I would like to discuss the implications with him at some length. If people are on the road regularly and want to be on the road, it is their right if they so choose, and some of them cannot come to grips with being settled.
Are we talking about the responsibility then of health boards to provide shelter? I know some health boards provide shelter, and that is to be commended. I know that my own health board in the southeast region originally provided shelter for men of the road and the matrons of two or three geriatric hospitals throughout  the region had a special place set aside for them but because there was no order in it the accommodation that was set aside was always second class. It never got priority because the persons were not in need of hospitalisation. All they needed was a bed, a place to stay for the night, breakfast, and they went away again. Some of this accommodation was not to the standard I would have liked. I would like the health boards to provide proper accommodation if that is their responsibility.
I hope that whatever legislation is introduced will define categorically where the responsibility lies, whether the health boards should look after people who are not sick but in need of a house or whether local authorities as the housing authorities should do that and under what regulations we would house them.
I have to have regard in all our deliberations to the needs as we see them. We have the needs of the family unit, needs of old people living alone in isolated areas, and with all the problems that have been happening recently many of them might wish to come into complexes of housing in villages and towns and avail of the new special small dwellings schemes that most local authorities have in operation. If that is the case are they a priority before the homeless, because technically they would consider themselves psychologically homeless? If they are living alone, they desperately need company and they want to get to where there is activity and where there are services and company. Everybody can sympathise with them, especially these days where other people who are on the road seem to have total disregard for either their person or their lives. I have to find out whether they have a priority and at what stage does a person have a priority as a homeless person.
It is an emotive area, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, and I am sure you share some of the sentiments I have expressed, being a member of a local authority. It is an emotive area because nobody wants to be accused of not wanting to do something about the problem. That is the  problem as we see it, that nobody seems to have addressed it in a specific way, particularly the statutory bodies who have done very little in this area. The health boards, who have done a limited amount, definitely have not done enough. Perhaps one of their arguments is that they are not funded in such a way that they can do enough. They find difficulty in keeping the service going as it is to provide attention for people who are sick and in need of service.
We have to look at our responsibilities in this area. We have to decide whether a homeless person is one who is homeless by choice or by circumstances. Is a person living in a caravan a homeless person? In my opinion a caravan is not a home for anybody whether it is an itinerant or a person who has been refused a county council house and who is forced to live in a caravan with his wife and children. There are many such persons living in caravans. There are itinerants who move into areas who want to settle and want to send their children to school and want to have them attending Church ceremonies, being confirmed and receiving Communion. There are all these social situations, and we must come to grips with them.
Society has not been easy in trying to come to grips with it. The moment you talk about opening some special place where you can deal with homeless people even on an overnight basis there is quite often community resentment to it because they say these people are coming in at all hours of the day and night creating disturbances, that they attract other people of a similar nature. There was a complaint from some people running some of the institutions in the health boards that they were unable to cope, because of lack of control. If the health boards are to provide a shelter it must be done in an orderly way; it must be done to a correct standard and there must be supervision to make sure that people do not have the freedom to walk in and out and disregard other people's privacy and property when they move in. It is important that everybody's rights are protected. We must condition the community to accept that there are people on the road,  there are people who should be housed and there are people who might not need to be housed. Would the proposed legislation insist that people in that category be housed over and above all others? I do not think that Senator Ryan would like to go along that road. I believe that he too, as a humanitarian, involved in community work in this field, would like to think that everybody in need of a house would get a fair crack of the whip.
I think two Ministers of State in responding to Senator Ryan's Bill have given various commitments about pending legislation. It is important that until we see that legislation this House should be seen to be prodding the Government, if that is the proper word to use, by our discussion of this Bill, we will create a continued sense of urgency in the Department of the Environment where this legislation is still sitting. I do not know whether the heads of the Bill have gone to the Cabinet or at what level it is.
Listening to the Minister of State, Deputy Pattison, last week, it is obvious that it is imminent. The previous Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, speaking on this Bill, said he had no arguments about the existence of the problem of homelessness and that he had the fullest sympathy with the motivation underlying the Bill but that he had reservations. He outlined the reservations that he had as Minister. Those reservations have been expressed by many speakers. I have expressed them without coming down on the side of anybody in particular. I have tried to put on the record of the House the system by which houses are allocated by local authorities, the responsibilities we have, the plans we have for producing houses, the kind of schemes we have, the approval from the Department of various schemes, the tender system, the review of the priority list every three months and the responsibility of the health board to do something extra in the area of accommodating persons who are homeless but who want to be on the move.
A statutory authority cannot respond effectively to the problem unless the people they are trying to house have a commitment to staying in a house. If  houses become ghettoes a disservice might be done to the homeless and to the community who need continued progress in rehousing.
I hope Senator Ryan will agree that there is a commitment on all sides to do something about housing the homeless. We have put down reservations about the way he wants to go about it because we feel there are snags inherent in the sections I have looked at in detail. I have given some time to considering them. I can only consider them in the light of the experience I have as a member of two local authorities. I know Senator Ryan has more experience than many of us in dealing with the plight of homeless persons. I have commended him and the Simon Community for what they have been doing for these persons, who have the same constitutional rights as everybody else. We have statutory and legal obligations to do something for them. We should do it in an orderly fashion and in a way that will benefit them and will address itself to the problem.
It is inevitable that there will be persons who will not want to conform. We will have to accept those and we will have to make their lives a little bit easier in some way. We will have to accommodate them, make food available for them. In this regard I would pay compliments to all the statutory bodies and the voluntary bodies. I have mentioned the Simon Community. There are many other voluntary organisations including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul who do tremendous work. They are to be commended. They now feel that there is statutory responsibility to provide capital investment. As long as there are voluntary organisations to look after persons who will not conform they can be assured that there will be a place for them to sleep at night whoever provides it.
There are itinerants, homeless persons, and unmarried mothers who need houses and who are prepared to avail of the services and facilities that are their right. If we make progress in that area we will have made a major contribution in dealing with the problem of housing  the homeless. There are many homeless persons and urgent action is required.
I support the principle of Senator Ryan's Bill and I hope that the Minister and his advisers will accept the urgency of the situation and that the only constructive way to deal with it is either to accept this Bill or amend it or replace it with better legislation if that is what the parliamentary draftsman feels is required. Senator Ryan in his original contribution to the House accepted that. He said that legislation from the Government side which meets the requirements of his Bill would, obviously be equally welcome. This House will support his views on that, and I look forward to the new legislation or the amendment of this Bill.
Mr. Cregan Mr. Cregan
Mr. Cregan: In welcoming the Bill and being aware of the problems because I represent an area of high homelessness could I say that we have come to a stage in our society that we can now boast that over the last ten to 15 years we have got on top as regards providing accommodation for family units of at least three or four. There is a big cost involved in providing accommodation. I use the word “accommodation” rather than “housing” because for far too long we gave an impression that a person must be housed rather than accommodated. There is still a very sad situation in our society in that there are persons who want to wander throughout Ireland but it is expected of us to provide some type of accommodation for them.
In the area I represent we are in the position where we can provide some type of accommodation for persons who want it on a long term basis. Unfortunately, there is an impression that we are not able or that we do not want to provide it for persons seeking accommodation on a long term basis. I have made inquiries through local authority officials. We have a situation, particularly in the Cork area, where the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Simon Community care for persons who are not accommodated by the local authority or the local health board. I am informed that if accommodation is needed in the Cork area for a person who  is prepared to stay in that accommodation on a long term basis, accommodation could be provided within the three to six months. That is a fair boast and it is only right to compliment each Minister for the Environment over the last ten to 15 years and the relevant staff for the work they have done in providing proper accommodation. At the same time, there will always be a problem with regard to trying to provide reasonable accommodation for persons who do not want to stay in the one area and who really do not want to say that they need long term accommodation. I do not want to give the impression that it is the same situation throughout the country generally, I suppose it is not. Speaking for my own area it must be put on record that we are quite proud of the situation that exists there.
Let us give some examples of what we should be doing, I do not understand why it is not being done. The cost of housing is unbelievable. The cost is in the region of £70 a week per accommodation or per house. That is a lot of money. I am glad to say that because of the new grant scheme I would envisage more houses coming on stream.
Under the Landlord and Tenant Act elderly tenants of old landlord houses can now be subsidised up to a certain amount after going to the relevant rent tribunal. We have a lot of private accommodation that is still available. These people, who are indeed our travelling people in one sense or, in another sense, our very own and indeed, might I say, our blue blooded people, are in a situation that if they do not get one type of accommodation they will get none. They either go to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or the Simon Community, or whatever, or whoever can provide. We provide subsidised rent for local authority tenants and for private tenants in private housing with a landlord under the Landlord and Tenant Act. That is an excellent Act. A landlord is getting a reasonable rent but at the same time we know who the landlord is and we can tax accordingly, and rightly so.
Why is it that we cannot say to a person who is in need of accommodation, which might be available in the private sector,  “We can put you in there and we will subsidise you accordingly”. We do not suggest that. Yet we are quite prepared to say, “We will build £35,000 houses and we can put you in there”. We are not prepared to broaden our minds as a people and say, “Is there accommodation available in the private sector? If there is why are we not using it and why do we not subsidise accordingly?” In the long run it would be much cheaper to the people and to the taxpayer generally. We must seriously consider that possibility. In fairness, it must be said that a husband and wife and one child can get accommodation. It may not be the best. After two or three years they can get new homes. We can be quite boastful of that. We have a situation where there is lots of accommodation available which we are not considering.
If a person is on £29 a week a health board may consider, after thorough investigation, giving a subsidy of £5 a week extra. That is a total of £34, but the person must provide accommodation for himself. On the other hand, persons in local authority housing or accommodation owned by a private landlord can be subsidised to the amount of £10 to £15 or to the amount of £50 per week in our local authority. We are quite prepared to give every type of benefits to these people while their own brother, sister or whatever, who wants to travel or who wants to be on his own gets no consideration. There is a responsibility on us to think otherwise.
Are we saying, if we do this, the private sector makes more? If that is the situation we can tax them accordingly. There is nothing wrong with that. I do not agree with Governments handing out subsidies to people who can look after themselves, including private landlords. We did have a situation where the landlord was not prepared to keep up repairs or to upgrade accommodation generally and things were deteriorating at a rapid rate.
That is one area where there is a great deal of accommodation available but the problem is that we are not prepared to say it and really look into it. In the Cork area — I speak about the area I know  best — approximately 2,000,000 sq.ft. is available in the centre of Cork that could be taken up in accommodation for different types of people. I am not saying that only one person accommodation should be provided. There are avenues there that we should be using. I have been at conferences on behalf of the Government and the local authority where renewals generally in older areas of cities and our towns were discussed. This type of renewal should be provided for the good of cities and towns generally. There is a rapid deterioration of older areas particularly in big towns and cities. The ground floor can be in use, the second floor can be in use but the third and fourth floors are not in use. This accommodation could be used for persons on their own, or for brothers and sisters, or young couples. I see no reason why we should not bring about a situation in the private sector where the people involved would revitalise these areas and provide a facility that is badly needed.
For far too long we gave the impression that if it is not a house you do not have accommodation. For far too long we gave an impression that everybody must have his own front door, his own front and back garden, which may never be used. It is a frightening thought that we do have that situation even with big families. Let us get our priorities right and talk about what kind of accommodation we can provide. The accommodation is there. We do not really have to build. We need only revitalise. It is sad to think that there is an area of a quarter mile square in Cork and we cannot use it to provide accommodation. We must be seen to be doing deals, getting talks moving with the private and public sectors for the good of all and at the same time provide facilities for persons who want to stay in these areas. The persons particularly mentioned in this Bill need to stay in built-up areas. They need, because of their loneliness and being alone and trying to provide for themselves, to stay in lively areas. We need to accommodate them, to consider what to do about it. We certainly are not doing enough. I am quite prepared to say  we spend in the region of £12 million a year — that is just one local authority — on providing top class accommodation for people who are certainly in need, but we must ask whether they should get priority over people who have nothing but £29 per week. Whether priority should be given to a person who with some help could accommodate himself or to a person who could not possibly accommodate himself is a big question. We put too much emphasis on making sure we look after people who speak well for themselves and, if I may go a little further, people who vote more often. The person who is travelling or not seen to be in the one place all of the time may not be getting the priority he should be getting. That is my view on it.
We have made some start by bringing in the £5,000 grant. We can say to these people: “If you leave we will give you £5,000. We will also give you the subsidy of £3,000 plus the £1,000 grant for first-time buyers, a total lump sum of £6,000 into your hands if you come out of local authority accommodation and do your own thing”.
With a small bit of initiative maybe we will provide for £1,000 or £2,000 in the private sector. I do not speak for the private sector, but at the same time I would give an example of what we could do if we had two floors over a relevant property in the middle of Cork. We could say that we were prepared to put £6,000 into that premises to make four units out of it for people who are on their own. Even if it cost £10,000 it would still cost us only £2,500 to get that accommodation for each of these people. I see no reason why we should not be doing that. We do not owe any apologies to anybody for considering that type of idea. It is very cheap. If we are not going to do that, the responsibility lies with us to make sure that we provide other accommodation. Certainly, we can go about building some type of apartments at a cost of about £20 or £25 per square foot. We should be considering whether enough is being done in this area and I would like to get the views of the Minister on this.
I have been to other countries looking  at urban renewal. Recently I was in a particular area of Rotterdam and I saw how the local authority there brought about a complete renewal in the inner city, which was completely deteriorating. They purchased on the long term 50,000 properties within the older area of Rotterdam. I appreciate that this is a lot of accommodation, but there are 500,000 people living in Rotterdam. In purchasing the property they gave the lease of the lower ground, which was already the business sector of that property, to the person who was already the owner of the property. In other words he got first priority on the same property, but the rest of the property was completely taken over by the local authority and re-structured to get people living back in the city centre area. The number of people now living in the inner area of Rotterdam is literally unbelievable. It is difficult to understand that in an area like Henry Street or O'Connell Street after 7 o'clock in the evening there could be a lot of people with lights on in their homes. It is a fact of life in these areas of Rotterdam but at a cost, we do not deny it. It is still much cheaper than building on green fields. It is much cheaper to re-vitalise the older areas. People need and want to stay in these areas. We can provide accommodation at a very minimum cost by doing a deal with the landlord and with the private sector. I can see no reason why we should not be looking at that area. There are excellent opportunities there. I would like to see if we can broaden that avenue.
Mr. McDonald Mr. McDonald
Mr. McDonald: I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this stage of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill because I believe it is an area where great care is needed. Since the mid-fifties I have had the honour to be a member of a local authority and I am conscious of the accommodation that all our local authorities have provided. Successive Governments provided the money for them down through the years.
Nevertheless, there is a social aspect to this problem and in that area more needs to be achieved. We should have  more concerned people who believe in self-help endeavouring to cater for people within their own communities. One has to be aware of the great work that has been carried on by selfless organisations. Many of them have been mentioned here over the years — the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community and many old and highly regarded organisations, especially in our cities, who have quietly and very effectively filled a void over the years.
I must compliment the Minister for the Environment and the Government on the novel approaches that they have taken to the provision of housing over the past couple of years. This year the new criteria and the new schemes they have introduced will have a knock-on effect and the Government will reach their targets. I compliment the Minister of State on the work that he has put into it and I hope his efforts will meet with considerable success.
I am acutely aware of the problem, but in a rural area the problem may not be as great as in some of the larger urban areas. Nevertheless, even in the rural areas we have the new problem that has become very evident and made the headlines last week where old people are being attacked in their homes. We have in every county, in every parish, old people who worked hard throughout their years and now find themselves through family or other circumstances residing alone in their own homes. While they may have in the main lots of comforts and be adequately housed they have not got contentment because they are in fear of being attacked.
We as the community must encourage more self-help. This year I have played a role in introducing another voluntary organisation to this country, the Sue Ryder organisation which is going to assist in the social aspects where people have accommodation but are afraid or unable to stay there alone. This is very important. The work of the Ryder Foundation, which is closely aligned with the Cheshire Foundation, will urge communities to encourage self-help and to keep people within their communities  and be conscious of them. It is very easy to respond generously to whatever charity is getting the headlines for the time being but most of us who are out and about are in such a hurry that we pass by people who may be in difficulties of one kind or another. I appeal to my colleagues here and to everyone else to give some of their time and care to people who are less fortunate than themselves.
When we speak about the homeless we must look at the difficulties that arise from the fact that there is a definite social dimension to this problem, especially for the type of persons envisaged in Senator Ryan's Bill. It was very encouraging to hear the Minister, in the course of his address last week, tell the House clearly that the Government are considering legislation to provide more adequately for the various categories of person who have been mentioned many times. As our country progresses it is only possible for us to be content with whatever progress we make if we demonstrate clearly that we are a Christian and a public-spirited people, if it is clear to everyone that we as a community are providing for people who have few of the goods of this world. It is not valid to lay the blame on these people if they are unable to maintain a house or to keep a flat.
Senator Cregan made the very important point that over the last 40 or 50 years local authorities in rural areas have provided half an acre or an acre cottage plot whether the people wanted that real estate or not. This must be changed. In every village and town in my county we provide what are called maisonettes which comprise one bedroom, a living room, kitchenette, bathroom and a small shed, a total of about 800 square feet which is made available to people for a few pence per week. These are in small communities so that they are part of the existing community infrastructure. It gets older people away from the feeling that they are isolated. We want to see more of that kind of development. Older people are entitled to be free.
There are other categories of homeless people who may occupy the lower age  groups which present a problem which is difficult to deal with. I do not share the view that these people should be conveniently assigned to mental institutions just because they may kick up a shindy while on the beer. The community should be more caring and should provide for these people and endeavour to understand them. I am convinced there are sufficient people in our community who have the generosity to give of their time to assist these people in holding on to their place in society.
I should like to compliment the Minister of State on the progress that his Department have achieved during the year in this area.
Mr. FitzGerald Mr. FitzGerald
Mr. FitzGerald: I am glad to be given the opportunity this evening to express a few thoughts in relation to the Bill. I should like to compliment Senator Brendan Ryan on his initiative in preparing this Bill and having it tabled before this House. There are few enough Members of either House who table Private Members' Bills and go to the trouble to deal with an area of social concern to the extent that he has.
Section 4 (1) states:
For the purposes of this Act, a person shall be regarded as homeless and in need of accommodation when the housing authority is satisfied that—
(a) he or any person who might reasonably be expected to reside with him (i) has no accommodation and is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness, handicap or physical disability, pregnancy, or other special reason and/or (ii) has no fixed abode and/or (iii) is usually resident in common lodging houses, refuges, night shelters or hostels and/or (iv) solely because of having no alternative accommodation, is forced to continue to reside in a general or psychiatric hospital, a county home or other such institution; or
(b) he has accommodation but he cannot secure entry to it or it is probable that occupation of it will lead  to violence from some other person residing in it; or
(c) his accommodation consists of a movable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it.
I have been looking into this matter in recent times. There are areas of Dublin city where the homeless are prevalent, where the numbers of people living in hostels are numerous. In the city centre area there are 1,000 single people residing in hostels at this moment. The ratio of males to females is 4:1.
I should like to read from an article prepared by Dr. Joe Fernandez who runs a very important assessment centre at St. Brendan's Hospital. It states;
... homeless men came from large families in which the bread-winner was usually an unskilled labourer. Having spent their childhood in over-crowded conditions in areas of social and economic deprivation they were known to leave school at an early age and, being devoid of specific vocational skills, were known to migrate to find casual work wherever their manual skills were likely to be in demand. They tended to be single because of their unsettled way of life and were known to gravitate towards male-dominated occupations, as in the building industry or in the hotel trade. Their inability to save money or to contribute towards pension schemes left them in financially precarious straits which were easily breached by a not-unexpected crisis or illness which precipitated destitution, usually around the mid-30s, if not at an earlier age as now seems to be the case. Having shown this downward drift, they then had to contend with living off welfare, or by begging and scavenging.
These are the sort of people who are in many instances living in hostels in this city today. They are people who have  become vulnerable to society. According to statistics of those being treated at the assessment centre in St. Brendan's, these people are in the main single and male, people who have worked for a period and who have run into financial difficulties. Those difficulties have been compounded by an alcoholic-related problem. At least 46 per cent of those who have been treated have a problem of that kind and another 33 per cent would be psychotic in some form or another.
I was fortunate in being able to avail of an opportunity recently to attend a meeting in Leinster House with housing officers from Glasgow Corporation. The vast majority of the hostel dwellers who were provided with accommodation in Glasgow in the last decade have been perfectly satisfactorily housed, to the extent of 85 per cent, within the new situation. Those people were remarkably well able to respond to looking after themselves in this new situation. I am not suggesting that there is not support given to them. We can see the kind of support arrangement that could be given to them.
I should like to compliment Dr. Joe Fernandez on the hostel arrangement in St. Brendan's Hospital. Not alone have they an assessment centre there where individual patients are assessed as to their needs, but they also operate a day centre where advice is available on medical and social matters. Outside the hostels where those people are now living they attend the assessment centre or for in-patient treatment and benefit from day centre facilities. This establishment, even on a European level, is a commendable achievement. It is tremendous to know that somebody as dedicated as Joe Fernandez has been able to get the support of the Eastern Health Board in getting this enlightened service underway and so far it has been working extremely well.
Already the level of support by the Eastern Health Board to 11 hostels in this city is a growing charge on the health services. We must find other ways of giving these people less institutional emphasis, turning them into the community and giving them support through the day centre and the other facilities that  are run from St. Brendan's and, we hope, in the long run making them far more satisfied members of the community.
Dublin Corporation have recently agreed, due to pressure from a number of organisations handling the homeless, the single-parent and smaller families to the allocation in the immediate future of some 50 units of accommodation to the single homeless. One hopes that if this scheme is successful there will be another 50 allocated after that. In the first instance it is intended to confine this scheme to persons over 40 years of age who are recommended by the Eastern Health Board or hostel personnel and are vetted by the corporation's chief welfare officer. This is a scheme which has been initiated this year and it has already had some effect on the people who deserve to be recognised in their own right and given satisfactory housing.
The problem is by no means solved. It is a big problem which over the years has been known to many people in public life but has not been given the recognition that it requires. Over the years we have had such enormous difficulties in dealing with the housing needs of the people. We first faced the problem of housing the traditional large families of the Irish community. Until ten years ago the emphasis was on the large family and they still absorb a high percentage of money allocated for public housing. The advice from a housing officer was that the more children you had the better chance you had of getting a house. This was the traditional approach until fairly recent years.
In the past ten years we concentrated on looking after the aged by providing sheltered housing and maisonettes. These developments to handle the aged have been a new emphasis, a second category of need that we have begun to recognise and do something about. The extent to which we have done this is enormous, although we have on the national waiting list 33,000 families awaiting accommodation. There are approximately 6,000 homes built annually.
In Dublin city there are enormous  problems in handling the third category of persons — the small family. We have done very little in this area. In the period from December 1983 to the end of this year out of a total of 1,500 units built by Dublin Corporation only 72 units had fewer than three bedrooms. The majority of units had three or four bedrooms. Enormous problems are faced by the small family, particularly the non-expanding family. It is necessary to have these small families satisfactorily housed in the kind of community setting they have been used to. We have not recognised this. It is fair to say that there has been a move in this direction by including in future schemes some units for this category.
Seanad Éireann 106 Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, 1983: Second Stage (Resumed).