Threshold, the national housing charity, was founded in 1978 and is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to secure a right to housing, particularly for households experiencing the problems of poverty and exclusion. Its main concentration of work is within the rented sector.
Deputy Willie Penrose officiated at the report launch. During the launch, Aideen Hayden, chairperson of Threshold, said the focus of Government policy needs to shift from reacting to homelessness to homelessness prevention. “The State invests hugely in supporting emergency hostel accommodation and street services, for example, but if more homelessness was prevented, there would be less need for these services in the first place,” she said. “So Threshold is strongly advocating giving prevention a higher priority than it gets at present.
“It would represent much better value for money to prioritise homelessness-prevention measures, rather than focusing primarily on supports for people who are homeless. Adopting this approach would minimise the risk of homelessness for families throughout Ireland, and would ensure that the Exchequer funding available to tackle this problem is used in the most cost-efficient way.”
The approximate cost of keeping a person in emergency homeless accommodation for one year is €29,000, whereas the cost of accommodating them in the private rented sector - with support - is approximately €11,000. The experience of Threshold is that the majority of homeless people that come through its services could have been housed at a much earlier stage - or could have been prevented from entering into homelessness in the first place - if they had received more appropriate advice when they initially presented to the authorities with a housing problem.
“For the vast majority of people who end up homeless, the situation could have been prevented,” said Aideen Hayden. “A common misperception is that only those with severe addiction issues or mental health problems end up on the streets. But the reality is that people end up homeless for all sorts of reasons, including relationship breakdown and changes in employment or household circumstances. And the recession is having a significant impact on the numbers affected by the latter two scenarios.
“In these cases, the people affected are capable of living independently at the time they approach homeless services. But, paradoxically, the system requires them to experience homelessness and to live in hostel accommodation before they can receive help in getting housed. Even those recovering from addition could, in many cases, have been spared a lengthy stay in homeless services had an earlier intervention been made.”
According to Threshold, good-quality housing advice services can prevent homelessness. This is backed up by the organisation’s own research: a survey conducted by Threshold last year showed 83 per cent of clients who assessed themselves as being at risk of homelessness when they first contacted the organisation were not homeless between one and three months later. Of those who were homeless (17 per cent ), the vast majority were staying with friends or family, which is at the less severe end of the homelessness spectrum.
“This shows that Threshold can play a major role in preventing homelessness, which greatly reduces both the human costs and the financial costs associated with this issue,” said Aideen Hayden. “No-one who comes to Threshold will end up sleeping on the streets. We have always led the way in preventing homelessness, and we have pioneered the use of the private rented sector as an accessible route to helping homeless people back into housing. The numbers at risk of homelessness who contact our services are rising. The recession is having a significant impact on the lives of poorer families, and many are buckling under the pressure. Our housing advice work is critical in preventing these families from ending up on the streets.”
Threshold’s annual report shows the organisation dealt with 19,500 queries from people all over Ireland during 2010. The report is available to download at: www.threshold.ie Anyone in Westmeath looking for housing advice from Threshold can contact the organisation’s Eastern Region advice office on (01 ) 6353600.