Mental Health Services, Homelessness and Private Emergency Accommodation

Thu, Feb 18, 2021

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Neasa advocating for specialist mental health professionals to be a formative part of our homelessness services, whether publicly or privately run; and petitioning the Government to ensure that physical, mental and emotional health services are available within Private Emergency Accommodation providers.


Deputy Neasa Hourigan: Go raibh maith agat a Cathaoirleach. Minister, a number of weeks ago I engaged with your Cabinet colleague Minister O’Brien on a number of issues around private emergency accommodation, which is a rapidly increasing proportion of the accommodation being provided and it seem a very profitable one. Minister O’Brien persistently referenced the role of Local Authorities and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive in tackling our homelessness crisis, but I believe our central government, our national government has a core duty in this area. Of course, in terms of policy and funding but also in ensuring legislation is being adhered to and that proper systems and governance structures are in place, especially when it comes to Private Emergency Accommodation and providing addiction and healthcare services to those that need them.

The HSE and the Department of Health has a particular role to play here both in terms of how it interacts with Private Emergency Accommodation and in their role on the Joint Homelessness Consultative Forum.

If I may focus on the links between addiction, mental health support and homelessness - all three are intrinsically intertwined and people can experience one, two or all three of these at periodically different points over their lifetime. The causes and consequences of homelessness are multi-faceted and that should be recognised and addressed within the system of homeless services that we as a state provide, whether through public or private structures.

Minister I believe we need to see national guidance in relation to the private provision of services. I believe that specialist mental health professionals should be a formative part of the homeless services we provide. Specialist teams should be engaging in active outreach for every person experiencing homelessness, providing aftercare planning and assisting people into a home. My fear is that this is currently not happening where the service is privatised.

For example, a small success of the past year has been a lowering of barriers for those seeking to get on methadone, which is itself now recognised itself as an addiction. But this is more difficult when the take up of addiction programs requires timely and direct access to information, staff and supports that might not be available in private providers. There is a lack of clarity about the quality, regularity, availability and efficacy of support services in private emergency accommodation.

What oversight does the Department of Health undertake to ensure that private providers in this sector are staffed with people who are fully Garda vetted and are suitably qualified? We need to ensure that adequate physical, mental and emotional health supports are available within these private providers. On the Private Emergency Accommodation providers themselves in terms of the Department of Health, what oversight does your Department take in terms of the standard of accommodation that is being funded through the taxpayer? What is the frequency of unannounced inspections carried out by HIQA or are there any inspections at all? What data is the Department collecting on emergency accommodation? And is the Department fully compliant with current procurement and tendering practices in the contracting of privatised emergency accommodation?

We have increased spending in this area since 2016 by a huge percentage yet we have only increased capacity by 237 people. What are we seeing for this rise in costs?