15 Aug 2022

'Fun protest' makes serious point about human rights of homeless people

A group of homeless people who are being denied official homeless status launched a campaign this week to secure recognition and human rights protections. Derry City and Strabane District Council, along with other council areas, have in recent days passed motions in support of the Homeless Not Voiceless campaign for Full Duty Applicant Status. The local council called 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. Homeless Not Voiceless, are a group of long-term hostel residents documenting human rights impacts on homeless people and seeking the immediate award of homeless status (Full Duty Applicant Status) to all residents living in such hostels. On Tuesday 2nd July, the group were joined by elected representatives in Belfast to deliver their message to Clark Bailie, Chief Executive of the Housing Executive. Dressed as superheroes, they presented their report based on research across 22 hostels. They used the Spiderman theme to coincide with the release of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Spiderman far from Home(less)’ and to focus attention on serious human rights failings experienced by homeless people living in shelters across Northern Ireland. Homeless Not Voiceless urged Mr Bailie to guarantee all homeless people are recognised officially by ensuring Full Duty Applicant status is awarded in every case and to provide appropriate mental health support services for homeless people. Speaking to the Derry News, Marissa McMahon of human rights organisation Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) said: “The group are using a bit of fun today to make a very serious point. “It is incredible that homeless people are being denied homeless status in such numbers despite the statutory obligations and the massive support they have received from Councils and political parties. “The scale of the housing crisis is being underplayed with devastating impacts on very vulnerable people.” The group also believes that NIHE’s statistics on homelessness are skewed as many people are spending longer than is being recorded, with PPR claiming that on average people are spending two and a half years in a hostel. Campaigners have therefore asked NIHE to adequately document and respond to repeat homelessness. Their campaign has now secured the support of Sinn Féin, Dup, SDLP, People before Profit and four Councils have passed motions of support in the past week. Information released under freedom of information (FOI) legislation revealed that on 25 June 2018 the NIHE had on record 19 people living in homeless hostel accommodation without official FDA homeless status. According to PPR, one month later, research carried out by Homeless Not Voiceless across 22 hostel sites on a single day found 78 hostel residents without official FDA homeless status. That is four times the number held by the public housing authority with responsibility for documenting and responding to homelessness. The stress and anxiety caused by prolonged periods of homelessness can worsen existing physical and mental health conditions. In response, a spokesperson for the Housing Executive said the awarding of Full Duty Applicant status is set out in criteria laid down in The Housing (NI) Order 1988. “Where a person presents to us as homeless, we will respond in accordance with this law and commence our enquiries. “We are prohibited from taking a blanket approach to awarding Full Duty Applicant status to residents living in a homeless hostel. “Our enquiries will determine whether or not the applicant meets the four statutory Homelessness tests which are defined in law. “The 4 ‘tests’ which are applied are: 1. Homeless/threatened with homelessness; 2. Eligible for assistance; 3. In priority need; and 4. Unintentionally homeless. “Assessments are carried out on an individual basis. “When we complete our enquiries, a Notification of Decision is given in writing to the applicant. “If an individual’s circumstances change, we would encourage them to visit us to be re-assessed.” She continued: "The Housing Executive categorises repeat homelessness by the number of presentations where the previous application had been closed less than 12 months before the current homeless application.  This is a definition that is consistent with other jurisdictions, such as Scotland, and it is not intended as a measure for the length of time associated with homelessness.

“Any figures released by the Housing Executive relating to the length of stay in temporary accommodation are for those households who have been provided with a placement by the Housing Executive.  The Housing Executive also funds direct access hostels where a referral from the Housing Executive is not required and therefore, such placements are not included in any figures released by the Housing Executive.

“It should be noted that the figure 38 weeks refers to the average length of stay in one type of temporary accommodation (voluntary sector hostels) in 2015/16.  The average length of stay for the corresponding period in 2018/19 was 33 weeks.

“Local Housing Executive staff run monthly and bi-monthly clinics in our hostels in Derry~Londonderry (all except the House in the Wells), which gives everyone living in hostels the opportunity to be assessed under homeless legislation.

“As well as this we regularly look at current cases that have already been awarded Full Duty Applicant (FDA) status and carry out reviews on their applications for change of circumstances, additional points, etc.

“Staff also carry out reviews on applications for residents who have been assessed and not accepted as FDA.”

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