The types of homelessness that have been hitting the headlines in Great Britain are the cardboard cities seen in London, and the families spending years in cramped and expensive bed and breakfast accommodation. Neither is particularly noticeable in Northern Ireland. Yet the absence of a visible homelessness crisis does not means that there is not a major homelessness problem. How many people are affected by homelessness in Northern Ireland? Who are? Where are they from? Why are they homeless? What happen to them? In this assignment I hope to explore the reasons for these questions.
Briefly outline housing policy in Northern Ireland 1921 – 1969.
“The ancient Irish quarrel is… a conflict of tribal minorities – who are also, confusing, majorities. Perhaps you could represent this historical puzzle as a set of ill-fitting Chinese boxes. The outside box is the British Isles, where, as we all know, English Protestants have dominated since the reformation. Trapped inside is Ireland, a box full of Catholics, majority of the island since time of ST Patrick. Trapped inside that is Ulster, a box full of northern Protestants, and the majority in the northeast since they were settled there in the 17-century.
And at the heart of the puzzle are the northern Catholics, outnumbered two to one in Northern Ireland, yet part of the island’s overall Catholic majority. Remove or rearrange one of the boxes and you might resolve the puzzle. But this is forbidden by the rules set by historical geography. The boxes must fit as they are. In other words, we must somehow learn to live with our neighbours.”
Thomas Pakenham, Sunday Times, 18 January 1981.
Amazing as it may sound, but true, that a century ago, housing conditions in Belfast and Londonderry were amongst the best, and perhaps anywhere in the British Isles. In May 1815, the Royal Commission on the housing of the Working Classes took evidence in Dublin, concluding its work with a survey of urban housing conditions in Ireland. Its findings in relation to Dublin, Cork, Limerick Waterford, Galway, New Ross and Kingstown were uniformly critical. But:
In Londonderry a far more satisfying state of affairs where found, the death rate had decreased, there was a vast improvement in the dwellings of the working classes, 1,137 new houses had been built during that period … tenement houses which at one time prevailed largely, and in very bad condition had almost ceased to exist. As well as that, the sanitary conditions in the town except in the case of a few old houses were good. The commission also looked on the conditions in Belfast favourably, since it was the most prosperous borough in Ireland. Its death – rate, although not low, was decreasing slowly; the dwelling accommodation kept pace with the population, the number of new buildings was on the increase being over 1000… there where no more tenement houses being build.
The cost of building in Belfast during that period was very low. The borough surveyor stated ” I believe that a working man can get a self – contained house cheaper in Belfast than in any other manufacturing town on the three Kingdoms”. The witness who gave this the evidence upon which these findings were based was Josiah Bretland, the borough surveyor of Belfast an architect and engineer from Nottingham, author of the town’s drainage system, and himself a Landlord. Bretland was asked to explain how the people of Belfast became anxious to live in better houses than other people had been elsewhere, his response:
“I Know that the people very much prefer houses, and that I notice that year after they will select and choose and prefer houses that are built and finished in a rather better style, and there is a great deal of competition going on in the town amongst those speculate in buildings to finish the houses better in order to get a better class of tenants in. I may mention that I happen to own a few houses myself, and I remember I put in venetian blinds and such like little fittings. People prefer type those of houses… and latterly I am very glad to say those builders are voluntarily putting areas in front of these single houses, and in some cases they are even going as far as to put two houses together in a semi-detached way, each with its little garden; but still they are let at a very reasonable rent”.
It would be wrong to paint too rosy a picture: there were certainly appalling slums, over crowded and unsanitary alleyways, rank-rented mill-workers’ hovels, byres and stables used for human habitation. But by standards of that time, Belfast was an uncommonly well-housed city. There where few if any tenements comparable to those of Dublin; there was nothing to compare with the rookeries described by Charles Dickens and Henry Manhew. Above all, there where back-to-back houses such as were to be found in most northern English cities and indeed never has there been. This was due to the provisions of a serious of Belfast local Acts, of which the most important were those of 1847, 1864, and 1878 Act, by laying minimum standards of space and layout, put an end to the building of unsanitary alleyways sharing a single privy and dungpit.
The 1864 Act unique to Belfast stated that the landlord was responsible for every house with a valuation of less than ï¿½8 and accepted responsibility both for the rates and for the repair. This useful provision served both to protect the poorest tenants, and to provide builders with a real incentive to build a standard, which would keep down the future burden of maintenance. The Act of 1878 greatly increased the minimum standards to which houses must be built and, significantly, provide for the first time that each house must have a rear as well as a front means of access. The comparatively satisfactory state of Belfast’s housing in the late 19 century was not due only to the framework of local laws and by-laws. There were other favourable factors, there was plenty of virgin building land; and there where plenty of landowners and developers eager to profit from it. P. G Cleary quotes a telling jingle of 1875:
“The richest crop for any field
Is a crop of bricks for it to yield?
The richest crop that it can grow
Is a crop of houses in a row”?
Indeed, many of the new houses of Belfast where built from the earth of the very fields upon which they stood: and in parts of the city, unexpected changes of level, humps and hollows, still mark the sites of old brick-fields. By the turn of the century the period of Belfast’s greatest expansion was over; the economic climate was highly unsettled; the growing conflict over home rule added to the general insecurity. Small wonder, perhaps that, given such gross over production the city fathers were slow to embark upon the municipal housing schemes. Indeed it was the beginning of a period of apathy and stagnation in housing matters within the city, which was to last for half a century, and to lead to many of the troubles of the recent past. The Great War, the Troubles and rioting which accompanied partition, the side – effects of the Civil War in the Free State, perhaps above all the heavy losses of the best young men at the Somme and elsewhere.
By 1939 the World was once again plunged into a World War, Europe was in flames, even Belfast didn’t go unscathed In 1941 the Germans bombed Belfast, in which 3,200 homes were destroyed and 53,000 damaged, constituted a turn of the tide for Housing in Northern Ireland. A planning Advisory Board was appointed “to consider and report on the general housing problem in Northern Ireland with particular reference to the clearance of slums and the provision of new housing in the post-war period.
Within eighteen-months it produced a clear, lucid and extremely cogent report, the first-ever survey of housing conditions in Northern Ireland. It was a damming document, though its main conclusions, ” that to provide decent housing conditions, approximately 100,000 houses would be required”, was deliberately much understated. The report acknowledged that particularly all of the 53,000 houses damaged by the bombing had been repaired by September 1943; provided preliminary statistics on unfitness and overcrowding throughout the province (the latter unadjusted for the 9,000 evacuees from Belfast to the country side); discussed slum clearance, the use of flats, densities, the “filtering-up” process, open space provision, the dilemma between low rents and minimum standards, and the need for community facilities in large new estates.
Sir Basil Brooke formed a new Government at Stormont early in 1944, and recruited to his cabinet William Grant, a former Shipyard worker, who was determined to take positive action about housing conditions. Later that year a Housing Bill was introduced providing for new subsidies, and for the establishment of a Northern Ireland inspired, as Grant made plain, by the Scottish Special Housing Association, which had been set up 1937 with the duel objectives of providing employment and improving housing conditions. The Unionist old guard hotly opposed this element of the bill, saw it a reflection on the competence and integrity of the local authorities, as a derogation from the controlling powers of Stormont, as an example of creeping communism.
The objectors succeeded in obtaining a number of assurances from the Government, which were to tie the hands of the Trust when set up. It was made very plain that the Trust was to be no more than an auxiliary to the local authorities with out any powers to coerce them – a decision, which was to have significant consequences in Derry, Enniskillen and Dungannon. Grant urged members to regard the Trust “not as a fifth wheel on the coach but rather as a third horse to help the wagon up the hill”. The pattern accordingly set for the provision and administration of housing for the next 27 years. The task was to be shared between the private sector, building almost for sale rather than for rent; the local authorities, which responded with varying vigour; and the housing trust.
All three of Mr Grant’s wagon horses were to receive subsidies from the Exchequer. The housing trust though not the largest provider of new houses in the province – in its 26 years completed 48,500 dwellings, about half of its original target – it was unquestionably the most influential. From the out set, it was a body with a marked and individual character of its own. And for all of that, it wasn’t until the civil rights movement had begun to gather strength in 1968; no Roman Catholic was ever appointed to the Trust Board. This was not the fault of the Board members, who repeatedly pressed successive Unionist ministers to appoint a Catholic: to be greeted with the unvarying replies that “the time was not right”.
It must be said however, that not all the Housing Trust’s legacies to its successors have been equally happy. The technical advantages of wartime had, by 1945 brought an unfortunate over-confidence in the miraculous potentialities of new methods and materials. In 1945-46, it had sponsored the arrival of a system called Orlit, and entered into negotiations for the use of Easiform and No-Fines systems. In the long term, the disadvantages of these concrete -based systems used by the Trust, places like Divis Flats, Cregagh Estate, Rathcoole and Roseville Flats (Derry), which were literally pre-constructed factory houses bolted together. The associated with timber frame building- have become all too apparent.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that the trust’s houses, despite their small size and austerity where exceptionally well laid out and designed, and introduced quite new standards to Ireland. Estates like Cregagh in 1948, Belvior and Seymour Hill with its open spaces, retention of trees and hedgerows, where quite without precedent and are still amongst the pleasantest in the province. By 1958, the trust, falling into line with current fashion with Great Britain, put out to contract its first multi- flats blocks at Cregagh; some proved successful while others where not.
By the early 60’s the trust began a construction of small four story flats, Annadale, Divis and Carrick Hill; most of which failed. As well as that they where quick to take advantage of the availability of prefabricated emergency houses; of the 2,000 asbestos Acron bungalows imported by Stormont, regarded as temporary dwellings with a ten-year life expectancy. Over 1,000, were erected in Belfast as where 800 aluminium bungalows, regarded as paramount. I myself was born in one of these prefabricated houses in the Beechmount area of west Belfast. They lasted more than ten-years; I have seen photographs of my family during the time they had lived there and walked past them myself before they were demolished in the 80’s.
In January 1968 the Trusts Board appointed its first ever Roman Catholic member, James O’Hara.
Its “declared policy” of creating integrated communities, was consciously and deliberately designed to constitute mixed Protestant – Catholic communities; estates like Rathcoole, Seymoore Hill, Suffolk and Twinbrooke.
It remained the subject of criticism of being one sided. In 1969, James Callaghan the then Prime Minister put it on record “the trust was the only organisation in Northern Ireland of which there was absolutely no criticism in Whitehall”.
The trust worked in partnership with many other councils and was often frustrated at their lack of co-operation, the likes of Londonderry, Dungannon and Enniskillen which, despite established housing need, where on various and not convincing pretexts to block housing developments which might have upset established electoral patterns.
When it finally surrendered its functions to the Housing Executive on 3rd October 1971, it handed on 48,532 completed dwellings; 5,882 dwellings under contract; a land bank sufficient for 12,230 more; a housing account at credit; a staff of skilled and devoted housing specialists.
By 1970, a first class housing crisis had developed, and was one of the principle contributory factors to the Troubles. In many areas there was an absolute shortfall of housing; there was gross overcrowding in some places, and a general miss-match between demand and supply. A disproportionately large percentage of the total stock was more than seventy years old, lacking modern amenities, and rapidly approaching the end of its economic life; and to many areas there where glaring disparities between the standards of housing enjoyed respectively by the majority and minority communities.
The advantageous position of 1885 had been totally dissipated, not deliberately, but as a result of fifty years of apathy and neglect, followed by inadequate attempts to catch up in the post-war years. In some areas there was more than a suspicion and deliberate sectarian discrimination in the building and allocation of houses. No wonder that housing grievances fuelled the growth of the Civil Rights Movement, as it came to a head at Caledon
Why did housing become a problematic area 1969 – 1971?
In 1969, a number of factors came together, which created a massive housing problem over the next 10 -15 years. This included:
1. No houses (lack off)
2. Poor housing Stock
3. Neglect by housing authorities
4. Rising population
5. Belfast was bursting – in particular Catholic housing.
6. Civil Conflict – mass burning of houses in certain districts.
The episode known as the “Squatting at Caledon”, in June 1968, brought housing to the very forefront of the political dissensions in Northern Ireland, it has also been identified as the starting point of the Troubles, which were to follow. The Unionist -controlled Dungannon district council allocated a new house at No 11, Kinnaird Park to a Mrs Brady, a local Catholic and No 13, Kinnaird Park next door to a Miss Beattie, as single girl of 19 and a protestant who was secretary to an influential local figure.
A Mrs Gildernew, a catholic with three children squatted in No 11; form which she was evicted in a glare of publicity on 18th June. The television cameras showed horrified viewers the bailiffs breaking down the front door and her family being dragged out, Mrs Gildernew clutching her infant child; and her mother receiving cuts from broken glass. AUSTIN Currie, rose the matter nest day at Stormont with such vehemence that he was ordered out of the house. Unionist ministers refused either to interfere with the discretion of the local council or with the enforcement of the law.
In an article by the Belfast Telegraph, which gave expression to public uneasiness in a leader on the 20th June, advocating a through inquiry into housing allocations in the province: adding, “As things stand, a local councillor from a district effectively decides who gets houses and who does not… The natural tendency of a councillor to preserve the status quo that won him his seat must create tension”.
Next day, Austin Currie, accompanied by Mrs Guildernew’s brother, very publicly and deliberately squatted in the house next -door which had been allocated to Mrs Beattie: after three hours they where forcibly removed by the police. Short and simple as Mr Currie’s squat was, it effectively drew attention to the disparity between the claims of a Catholic and her three children, and those of the Protestant Miss Beattie. Which was why the public interest was sharply focused on the burning question whether or not Unionist councils in Northern Ireland discriminated unfairly on sectarian or political grounds against Catholics in matters of housing.
Austin Currie’s lead was followed by the campaign for Social Justice and the Civil Rights Association which organised a protest march on August in Coalisland; which in its turn led to the Civil Rights march in Derry of October, and the rioting which then followed. And so to the Burntollet march and the Bogside episodes of January 1969: which led to the Cameron Commission of Inquiry into “Disturbances in Northern Ireland.
The report of the Cameron Commission, published in September, was clear and unambiguous: one of the prime causes of the disturbances, it found, was
” A rising sense of continuing injustice and grievance among, large sections of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, in particular in Londonderry and Dungannon, in respect of
(i) Inadequacy of housing provisions by certain local authorities.
(ii) Unfair methods of allocation of houses built and let by such authorities, in particular, refusal and omissions to adopt “points” system in determining priorities and making allocations.
(iii) Misuse in certain cases of discretionary powers of allocation of houses in order to perpetuate Unionist control of the local authority”.
This Conclusion has, ever since, been accepted as incontrovertible by most catholic politicians and commentators, and indeed by many others. Yet it must be said that Unionist apologists still equally vehemently deny it. In the first place, the Cameron report itself was to some extent superficial and subjective; it cannot be said the commission carried out any very thorough research or analysis, nor that it produced any very convening evidence or statistics in support of the its findings. In another study published in 1971 by Richard Rose called ” Governing without Consensus”, reached the conclusion that “in aggregate, Catholics are more likely than Protestants to be living in council houses”. But he added, ” Aggregate figures do not necessarily show the absence of any discrimination”. And
“To acquit the unionist regime of blanket charges of discrimination in public housing is not to assert the absence of any religious discrimination… The copious files of civil rights organisations indicate that blatant cases of discrimination can and do occur…from a civil rights point of view, each individual case of discrimination is a matter of protest”.
There are however, various pleas in mitigation that can be raised:
1. That Protestants and Catholics have traditionally, over several centuries, tended to live in segregated areas in many of the cities, towns and villages of Ulster. A fact, which has been studied in some depth, and established as historically well, founded by a number of social -geographers.
2. It is argued that the electoral consequences of new housing can never be ignored, and that the siting of new estates to maintain the status quo went on further than in some closely – contested English, Welsh or Scottish constituencies.
3. That since catholic families tends to be larger than protestant ones, any allocation scheme based on family size must result in discrimination against Protestants.
There may be some truth in this argument, but against them must be weighted the number of well-documented cases brought to public notice by the campaign for social justice; and some of the damagingly candid admissions made by indiscreet Unionist politicians. And if many Catholics in many areas did get houses, there were certainly some Catholics in some areas who had not any hope of ever doing so. It is to the discredit also of the Stormont government that it never made any attempt to intervene, or to temper the excesses of its followers. Certain as it is, that this was a deeply emotive and diverse issue during the 60’s and early 70’s, even thirty years have passed since housing functions were transferred to the housing executive, it is a subject still capable of raising passionate feelings of grievance and indignation on both sides.
All of this was to change sharply, in the summer of 1969, when large -scale population movement started; incidents on the either side of the Crumlin Road, and around the Unity Flats. In July more and more families decided to move: in August the British army arrived, interposing itself between two factions, but not soon enough to prevent a Protestant foray from the Shankill which burned out almost very home in Bombay Street, off the falls. So-called “peace-lines” of corrugated iron was established many parts of the city.
Many hundreds of families left their homes, some voluntary and involuntary, during the summer and autumn of 69. A steady trickle continued to do so for the rest of that year and throughout 1970: in particular, protestants who where expelled from the formally mixed estates at Moyard and New Barnsley. While Catholics where expelled from parts of east Belfast (except the enclave surrounding St Mathew’s church in the Short Strand area,) from Springmartin and the Donegall Road.
The second wave of movement occurred in August 1972, following the surge of disorder consequent upon the introduction of Internment. In a report published a few weeks earlier by the Community Relations Commission called “Flight”, it estimated that in the three weeks after 9th August, at least 2,100 families fled from their homes; and this was certainly a considerable underestimate. The commission considered that about 40% of the total movements were Protestants, and about 60% catholic.
Amongst its findings and comments were the following:
“To give up a home where one lived for years, and which is itself a symbol of security, for the insecurity of squatting, which many did, is an act of desperation: to damage one’s house on leaving, or allow others to do so, is an act of despair. Each of the statistics recorded in this report represents an individual as a legacy of what has taken place”.
Nobody who lived in Belfast through those dreadful days will forget them, the sounds of gunfire and explosions on the falls Road were all to audible: the flames and palls of smoke rising in the distance. The human problems caused to the families most affected were appalling at that time; problems posed to the various welfare authorities and not least those responsible for housing. All the normal of civilised conduct, of law and order, had broken down; every contingency was perilous and unpredictable. Firemen were shot or petrol bombed as they tried to their, already dangerous work. Tall buildings – church spires, factories, and monasteries. Previously unarmed vigilantes had turned into armed and organised paramilitary armies, some of which sought to take over the control and allocation of housing.
In the Belfast Cooperation’s Westland Road estate, new houses nearing completion were squatted in systematically. Equally in Beechmount on the Falls Road, notices where placed in the windows of new houses announcing, ” allocated by Provisional IRA “. Barricades of burned out cars, lorries, buses and wreckage turned some estates into no-go areas for all but their residents; a third of the population went on rent strike. By the end of 1971, the fulcrum of housing discontent and housing violence had shifted mainly, though not entirely, to Belfast. The campaign against sectarian discrimination in housing had its roots in central Ulster – Caledon, Dungannon, Armagh, Coalisland; and in the west particularly Londonderry and Enniskillen.
To some extent, the reforms announced in 1969 had defused these grievances: the imposition of points schemes, however crude; the promise to set up a new Central Housing Authority and the passage through the Stormont Parliament of the legislation required to bring it into existence. The Housing Executive Bill was presented to Parliament in July 1970; by February 1971 it finally received the Royal accent. The new organisation, which came to birth after so difficult gestation was an entirely novel kind: a single – purpose but all embracing housing authority on a region-wide basis.
An authority designed to take over the allocation and management of a public sector stock of nearly 200,000 dwellings; to under take a public sector new-build Programme on a scale large enough to cure the deficiencies of the past, and to undertake an extensive Programme of modernisation, renewal and rehabilitation both in the private and the public sector. The task a head was enormous, not only was there mass slum clearances, but equally thousands of people had to be housed in temporary housing accommodation. For the first time a point system was introduced where by all applicants were treated on merit without any interference to Nepotism or religious belief. This point system was available publicity and was adhered to rigidly; houses were allocated purely on need. For Northern Ireland this was something new.
Outline the Legislative provision got homelessness in Northern Ireland.
1. By 1971 all trust houses, which included voluntary housing associations and in many cases private housing associations as well, had been handed over to the NI Housing Executive.
2. In an admission in its 1974 survey 19.6% of its stock was unfit. In Belfast 29,750 houses out of 120 houses were unfit.
3. The British Government now realised that thus was an appalling figure, and began to release funds to reduce the levels of unfitness.
4. By 1979 this crash program had reduced unfitness levels to 15%. By the time 1980 arrived. Rehabilitation was the order of the day.
5. Between 74 and 79, 9 ministers where responsible for housing with 4 permanent secretaries with departmental responsibilities.
6. While housing executive in theory was independent, it was financially controlled by the government and could be seen as a QUANGO.
Quasi Auton Non- Governmental Organisation.
7. This led to accusations that government policy directing broad housing policy and accommodation were made; that in the planing and development, security was the ultimate situation.
As we move through the 70′ and 80’s, housing development had virtually transformed Belfast. Vast areas had been levelled; rehab grants had resulted in vast improvements. While rows and rows of unfit houses had been levelled. We now move on to 1988, when the Housing (NI) Order1988 was introduced: which contains the statutory duties owed to homeless people. Prior to the introduction of this Order, Social Services had the responsibility for securing temporary accommodation while the executive dealt with permanent housing needs through its housing scheme This did not become operational in NI until April 1989.
The Executive has a duty under its legislation to investigate the circumstances of any applicant presenting as homeless. In order that the applicant can be awarded priority status under the terms of this legislation, they must fulfil the following criteria laid by it:
* They must be homeless or threatened with homelessness
* They must be in priority need
* They must be unintentionally homeless
The Executive has a duty to secure permanent accommodation for those applicants who fulfil all 3 criteria.
It has a duty to provide temporary accommodation for these applicants pending permanent housing, should they require it.
The Executive will provide temporary accommodation to those applicants who require it to do so, whilst making enquires into priority need/intentionally.
For those applicants who are homeless and in priority need but intentionally homeless, the executive has a duty to secure temporary accommodation when required for a limited period, in order that they may seek alternative accommodation.
The Executive will seek to provide the most suitable temporary accommodation to meet each applicants needs and may use the following types of accommodation:
* NIHE Hostels
* Voluntary Sector Hostels
* Private Sector Establishments – B&B, Guest Houses, Hostels
As well as placing homeless applicants in 19 of its own hostels, the executive makes temporary accommodation placements in a wide range of Voluntary Sector Hostels, many of whom the executive assist by way of deficit funding payments. These Voluntary organisations play an important role by providing not only temporary accommodation, but also support and resettlement, particularly to those applicants who, although homeless, are not awarded priority status.
The executive will supply applicants who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, a list of furniture storage companies who have been tendered for the executive. In cases of financial hardship, or where and applicant is unable to make his own suitable arrangements, the executive may arrange to store an applicants personal property provided;-
1. The applicant is homeless/threatened and in priority need, or has been placed in temporary accommodation by the executive relating to homelessness/priority need/intentionally.
2. There is a danger of loss or damage to the applicant’s priority.
Advice and Assistance
Where an executive has no legislative permanent housing duty, individuals may be considered for public sector accommodation under the Executive’s Housing Scheme. Such applicants are also given advice and assistance on other possible housing options that may be open to them.
Around 11,000 applicants present themselves as homeless to the executive each year, and around 4,500 of whom are accepted as priority applicants under the terms of the homelessness legislation. Each year the executive places around 2,500 households in temporary accommodation. Since the executive became the statutorily responsible for homelessness in April 1989, it has monitored various aspects of those presenting i.e. male, female, age group, etc as well as the reasons for homelessness by those presenting i.e. breakdown/family disputes, marital/relationships breakdowns, domestic violence, intimidation, loss of rental accommodation.
Homelessness is not just about people sleeping rough with no immediate shelter from the elements. It is more useful to think of homeless as a condition which includes not only people who are “roofless” but also those who do not have a place which they have the right to occupy from which they an develop their future. These rights may be determined by virtue of an interest in a property or by contractual agreement giving a degree of security of tenure.
Caplow’s (1978) definition of homelessness as:
“A condition of detachment from society characterised by the absence of attenuation of the affirmative bonds that link settled persons to a network of interconnected social structures”
Emphasise social consequences rather than the more tangible parameters of homelessness. Nevertheless, the social and physical effects of homeless are the important factors in considering how to alleviate the problem. Resolutions must consist of more than just an adequate supply of accommodation. There is a need to establish and develop the social structures and networks that give individuals feelings of belonging and knowledge of support systems that they can use in times of stress.
Which is why the failure to establish the exact extent and nature of homelessness in Northern Ireland is a direct consequence of the confusion surrounding the precise definition of the problem. Due to the absence of legislation, that homelessness is not a Statutorily defined in the province, however the definition most usually employed by statutory agencies equates closely to that of contained in the British Homeless person’s legislation and was given by the Joint Working Group as:
“A person is homeless if that person together with any other person normally resident with him or her, has no accommodation or is threatened with such a situation and is likely to become homeless within 28 days”.
There is a Varity of crises that can result in a person losing their home.
1. Partners split up;
2. Friends who have been sharing accommodation fallout;
3. Teenagers are subjected to violence or sexual abuse;
4. Women suffer physical or mental abuse from their partners;
5. Family friction leads to parents asking young adults to leave home.
1. A family can no longer afford to pay their mortgage or rent;
2. An employee given accommodation along with his or her job is made redundant;
1. Paramilitaries or sectarian violence force people to leave the area.
Release from an institution:
1. People leaving hospital or care
1. By fire or, flood or bombs
Moving to Northern Ireland:
1. A worker made redundant in another country returns home to look for a job. When people are presented as homeless to the NIHE these are the reasons recorded?
The loss of a person’s home does not necessarily result in homelessness. For example, a young adult who is asked to leave the family home might be able to find a room or a flat that they can afford to rent. Or a family who cannot keep up with their mortgage repayments may be able to sell their house and buy a less expensive one. Two of these factors are inter-linked: poverty and a shortage affordable housing. These two examples involve people with enough money to deal with their predicament. But there are a large number of people who are in low-paid employment or dependent on government benefits and for the majority of these the only realistic option is housing provided by the NIHE. The housing Executive therefore has a central part to play in preventing people who lose their homes from becoming homeless.
Two other factors are also involved. In some cases people lose their homes have the support of family or friends who will provide a new permanent home. This may happen in the case of a marriage breaking up. At other times this support network may help with a temporary accommodation until permanent housing can be found. But there are some people who do not have this support network and so are more vulnerable to homelessness. Secondly, there are some, probably a small but significant minority, without this support network who is not immediately capable of living independently in their own home.
This could be due to reasons such as alcohol dependence, mental or physical health problems, having become institutionalised, or never having been taught homemaking skills. People in these circumstances who lose their homes need some other form of help to avoid danger of long-term homelessness. Homelessness can take different forms. The most extreme is not having a roof over your head at all.
People with no fixed abode can end up sleeping on the streets, in a doorway or in a derelict house. Another type of homelessness involves living in temporary housing. This may mean sleeping on a friend’s floor or living in a cramped condition with relatives until a permanent home can be found. The third variety might be less obvious as the people concerned continue to live in what has been permanent home – but it is no longer a home to them. They may be living there in fear of violence or sexual abuse, or unfit conditions, but believe that they have no other housing options open to them. See report on Building on Success, in Appendix. This report outlines the extent and nature of homelessness in NI today and over the past five years. It also provides detailed information on homeless amongst key groups – young people, older people, lone parents, people with mental health problems, travellers and ex-prisoners.
Non -Statutory NIHE Administrative Scheme
This scheme, administered by the NIHE, does not result from any obligation or power under the law. A person is granted “emergency A1 status” if they are homeless as a result of certain circumstances:
(a) Fire, flood, or other circumstances beyond the applicant’s control;
(b) Martial breakdown;
(c) The ending of a tenancy;
(d) Successful court action by a Landlord for the possession of a dwelling needed for himself or herself;
(e) Other circumstances, such as the move from the services to civilian life, the exceptional need to sell a home, or other circumstances regarded by the NIHE as unique.
Housing Executive proposals System.
* A1 emergency.
* B1 general housing.
* B2 Special.
* C1 Re-development.
The “A” categories are for those in special need with “A1” representing the highest priority. “B” is the general waiting list and “C” category is reserved for those seeking to transfer from one Housing Executive home to another. Some homeless households who do not qualify for “A1” status under the conditions laid down by the legislation may nonetheless be awarded “A1″ as a result of the separate assessment under the Housing Selection Scheme. In other cases, however, homeless households may be placed on the general (B category) waiting list where their priority is determined through a point system. Housing need points are awarded with respect to current housing conditions and individual need, the aim being that those in greatest need attract the highest number of points and thus move up to the top of the waiting list. Points are given for factors such as overcrowding and lack of basic amenities. There are no extra points for being homeless.
Homelessness and Threatened Homelessness.
Article 3 – Part II Housing (NI) Order 1988.
1. A person is homeless if he has no accommodation in Northern Ireland.
2. A person shall be treated as having no accommodation if there is no accommodation which he, together with any other person normally resides with him as a member of his family or in circumstances in which it is reasonable for that person to reside with him –
(A) Is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or virtue by an order or a court, or
(B) Has an express or implied licence to occupy, or
(C) Occupies as a residence by the virtue of any enactment or rule of law given him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of another person to recover possession.
3. A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation, which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy.
4. Regard may be had, if determining whether it would be reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation, to the general circumstances prevailing in relation to housing in NI.
5. A person may is also homeless if he has accommodation but –
(a) He cannot secure entry to it, or
(b) It is probable that occupation of it will lead to violence from some other person residing in it or to threats of violence from some other person residing in it and likely to carry out threats, or
(c) It consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where is entitled or permitted to place it and to reside in it.
6. A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days from the day on which he gives written notice to the Executive that he is threatened with homelessness.
Priority Need for Accommodation.
Article 5 – part II Housing (NI) Order 1988
(1) The following has a priority need for accommodation –
(a) A pregnant woman or a person with whom a pregnant woman resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(b) A person with whom dependant children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(c) A person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(d) A person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as fire, flood or other disaster;
(e) A person with dependent children who satisfies the Executive that he has been subject to violence and is at risk of violent pursuit or, if he returns home, is at risk of further violence;
(f) A young person who satisfies the Executive that he is at risk of sexual or financial exploitation.
Article 6 -Part II Housing (NI) Order 1988
(1) A person becomes homeless intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything, in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation, whether in NI or elsewhere, which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy.
(2) A person becomes threatened with homelessness intentionally if he deliberately does or fails to do anything the likely result of which is that he will be forced to leave accommodation which is available for him to continue to occupy.
(3) For the purposes of paragraph (1) or (2) an act or omission in good faith on the part of the person who was unaware of any relevant fact shall not be treated as deliberate.
(4) Regard may be had, in determining whether it would have been reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation, to the general circumstances prevailing in relation to housing in Northern Ireland.
Article 9 of the 1988 order allows for an internal appeal process. Applicants lodge their appeal with the regional manager, and then it goes to the director of Housing and Planning. An applicant is permitted to make representations. An alternative method is to challenge the decision in the courts by way of judicial review.
Unfit for Habitation.
A new set of unfitness criteria was introduced by the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order, 1992, and they relate to:
(a) Standard of repair;
(b) Structural stability;
(c) Freedom from damp;
(d) Natural lighting;
(e) Water supply
(f) Drainage and sanitary facilities;
(g) Food preparation facilities and disposal of wastewater.
Conduct independent research on an organisation and a client group outlining the aims and objectives of the former and the hopes and aspirations of the later.
Anton Wallich-Clifford, a London probation officer founded the Simon Community, in 1963. Through his work as a probation officer, Anton met homeless men and women who were living rough on derelict sites and waste ground in London. Anton was inspired by the work of other social reformers such as Dorothy Day in the United States, (co-founder with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement), the Abbï¿½ Pierre (who founded the Emmaus Community in France) and Mario Borrelli who worked with homeless children in Naples. Anton believed that by creating houses of hospitality in which both the homeless and the housed lived together in Community, that a network of care could be built up based on the principle of accepting people as they are.
The first Simon Community was established on September 1st 1963 in StLeonards-on-Sea in Sussex. Later that year, a former Catholic Worker house on Malden Road, Camden (St Joseph’s House), was acquired and opened as a Simon house of hospitality. Following a visit by Anton to Ireland in 1969, the first Simon Community was founded in Dublin in that year. Volunteers organised a nightly soup-run visiting people sleeping rough. Simon Communities were founded in Dublin, Cork, Dundalk and Galway. The Simon Community of Northern Ireland also operates a number of projects in Belfast, Derry and other towns. To develop these projects, the Simon Community works with the Following Housing Associations:
* Belfast Improved Houses (ltd).
* Open Door
The Housing Association builds the projects and the community then manages them.
The Simon Community is currently providing accommodation in ten projects throughout Northern Ireland. Five of these are based in Belfast with the remainder in Derry, Coleraine, Larne, and Downpatrick, as well as Newry. These projects provide a total of 140 bed spaces in any one night. Each of their residential projects has a team of managers, staff and volunteers to provide appropriate levels of care. Each resident is assessed and placed in accommodation suitable to their stage of development towards independent living.
Emergency Accommodation – Belfast.
186 Cliftonpark Avenue.
This is a direct access project, which offers help 24 hours a day. It provides full-board accommodation for 21 single people. A resettlement service is provided to assist residents to move to other temporary or permanent housing in the community.
414 Fall Road
This is their newest project to offer emergency accommodation. It offers 20 single bedrooms, 2 sitting rooms and five kitchens allowing residents to prepare their own meals. A resettlement worker is included in the staff team.
Second stage Accommodation- Belfast
247 Cavehill Road
This is a smaller house with six beds, a kitchen and sitting room. This project offers young people the chance to develop their independence while still enjoying the 24-hour support of staff. Residents can stay for up to several months pending resettlement: or to move to a Simon bed-sit or flat.
Cluster Flats Projects – Belfast
Three separate projects have been developed to date the Falls Road, (12 bed-sits) 53 Magdela Street, (3 flats) and 242 Antrim Road (5 self – contained flats and 5 bed-sits. Each takes referrals that have been assessed as ready to live in accommodation where a low level of staff support is provided.
Regional Accommodation Projects
13 Bond Hill, Derry.
This project was opened in response to the growing need for suitable accommodation for single people who are homeless. 15 people can be accommodated in a series of flats. A resettlement service also operates here. Other projects are in;
* To provide help to an increased number of individuals who are homeless
* To increase the geographical coverage of Simons’s work
* To increase the number of individuals who are successfully resettled
* To increase the quality standard that Simon provides on a consistent basis
* To increase the level of resident involvement
* To maintain and increase the level of income from statutory and private sectors
* To increase the responsiveness of Government and relevant statutory bodies to the needs of people who are homeless.
Interviews with two homeless people
Orla is 18 and comes from west Belfast and became homeless.
” It all happened six months ago when I got mixed up with the wrong crowd. I started going out at night and not coming home, taking drugs and drink.
My parents tried to sit me down and talk to me, I never listened, and the only person I cared about was myself.
My parents told me to finally to leave; I went to work that day not knowing where I was going to stay.
My friend advised me to ring the Simon community, which I did and they sent me down to one of their hostels.
Even though I really like living in this hostel and made some really good friends, there are some bad points. Cooking for yourself, which I wasn’t used to doing. The time you have to be in for and during the duties around the house.
I would to advise any young person who are going through any rough patch with their parents are any other sort of problems, try and sort them out before they end up in the same position I’m in now.
I really like living in this hostel but would rather be at home. There’s nobody loves you as much your own family”.
John is 44 and homeless.
“My name is John, I was made redundant when I was 44, after working for 16 years at the one job.
I tried and tried my times to get a job but couldn’t. I had difficulties filling in applications forms and didn’t do many interviews in my life.
Eventually through not getting a job I felt bad and down, and started drinking heavily. That led to my marriage break-up, because of the drink and lack of money in the house.
Eventually I ended up on the streets, I’d lost my friends. I slept in parks and graveyards, along with other people who where homeless.
I have been in this hostel for a year and the staffs are very helpful. They’re helping me to get my life back together. I see a social worker once a month with my kids.
I hope within the next six months, with the help of the staff, most of all I have to help myself. I hope to have a flat and get my life back together.
Please don’t be taking my path in life”.
These are actual interviews are taken from a CD-ROM called “outhouse preparation for leaving home ” sent to me be the Simon Community. This student was unable to set up any interviews no matter hard he tried. The Simon community had already granted interviews with two other students. This student tried his best.
Simon community plans for 1999/2000 and beyond.
The housing Executive has commissioned Simon community to examine suitable housing options for those leaving the care system, aged 16 to 18. The aim of the research is to establish the types of accommodation that would ensure successful transition form care to independence.
A new Simon community accommodation and support project is to open at Lisburn in June 2000. The development will feature 20 hostel beds and 10 move-on flats.
During early 2000 we hope to begin work in conjunction with Habintag housing association on an accommodation and support scheme offering 20 hostel beds spaces and 18 move-on flats at Down Patrick.
The year 2000 will see major changes in the way in which many people are selected for accommodation places within NI housing Executive and housing association properties. We welcome the opportunity to comment on these changes. However, we await implementation of the new scheme and will monitor its effects on homeless people.