Minister has ‘concerns’ about people leaving direct provision system entering homeless services

Darragh O’Brien says Department of Integration needs to ‘work hard’ on exit strategy for people given permission to remain in State

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has “concerns” about asylum seekers who have secured status to remain in Ireland entering homeless services after leaving direct provision.

He said his department was seeing “quite a significant increase” in the numbers of people who had moved out of direct provision presenting to homeless services.

Earlier this week, The Irish Times reported that the most senior civil servant in the department, Graham Doyle, clashed with his counterpart in the Department of Integration over the issue.

Mr Doyle warned there was a “serious risk” that significant numbers of asylum seekers would be left sleeping rough after being ordered to leave direct provision. In a December 5th letter, Mr Doyle said he was concerned about a “new expectation” that responsibility to accommodate asylum seekers with status to remain in the country would shift to already under pressure homeless services.

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Mr O’Brien on Wednesday played down suggestions of “friction” between the two departments on the issue, but said “there are obviously complications” when people are coming out of direct provision.

“We’ve had to continue to work with the Department of Children and Integration on that to see how better they can exit people from direct provision,” he said.

Some 6,000 of the more than 26,000 people in the asylum system have been granted status to remain in the State, but have yet to leave direct provision, in part due to difficulties sourcing housing.

The Department of Integration last year stepped up efforts to move this cohort out of State-provided accommodation for asylum seekers.

Mr O’Brien said the rate of new presentations from former direct provision residents to homeless services had increased “pretty substantially” in Dublin.

“What I think we need to ensure is that the Department [of Integration] work hard on their exit strategy when they’re exiting people from direct provision, that there is a plan at that stage for where these individuals and families are actually going to go,” he said.

Separately, the Minister said the Peter McVerry Trust homelessness charity had finalised a financial plan for its future. The trust late last year required a bailout of up to €15 million from the State to stay afloat.

Mr O’Brien said he would be examining the details of the plan and making a decision on the release of a further tranche of the previously agreed bailout to the trust “very soon”.

He said the trust, which has been embroiled in a big governance and financial controversy, had been “stabilised with unprecedented support” from the State.

“I’ll be assessing the business plan looking at what reform is needed and how we ensure that reform happens. And looking at what the structure and make-up of a reformed Peter McVerry Trust will look like,” he said.

The Minister was speaking on the sidelines of a conference organised by housing and homeless charity Sophia in Dublin.

Tony O’Riordan, chief executive of Sophia, said the organisation was looking to increase the number of homes it provided to move people out of homelessness from more than 400 to close to 800 over the next five years.

“You can’t solve homelessness without increasing the supply, I think everyone has to step up to the mark,” he said.

A facility run by the charity in Dublin’s north inner city provides 18 apartments to house couples who had been homeless. Staff were based on site to offer supports to residents, who may have been entrenched rough sleepers beforehand.

“People have their own home, it’s not a bed for the night, it’s not a shelter, it’s not a hostel, people have tenancies,” Mr O’Riordan said.

As a result of their approach, he said, people did not fall back into homelessness in around nine out of 10 cases.

“This is not a cheap model. It wouldn’t be possible to deliver this model if we didn’t have a 24/7 staff presence ... It is only that investment that is stopping people going back into homelessness,” he said.

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