Homeless housing range of services for expansion

Photo shows, the council buildings in Mullingar.

A housing service aimed at helping long term homeless people get back on their feet is being expanded in Westmeath and neighbouring counties.

Westmeath County Council, the lead local authority for the Midlands Homeless Region, issued a tender last week for 34 housing units over three years. The national implementation plan for the Housing First initiative has set a minimum target of 34 accommodation units across the midlands (11 in Westmeath, 12 in Offaly, 8 in Laois and 3 in Longford).

The Housing First model provides service users with accommodation as well as a range of long term supports. The supports provided are tailored to a person's individual needs and are available for as long as is required. These include include assistance with setting up their homes and liaising with services and agencies, such as landlords and utility providers.

Unlike previous initiatives to tackle homelessness, the Housing First model does not require people to have resolved the problems that contributed to them becoming homeless before they are allocated accommodation.

According to the tender documents, the project seeks to provide accommodation in “scatter-site (no more than 20% of the units of any building), self contained independent housing units for each participant, with the services of intensive case management providing visiting support to the person in their home”.

The service is targeted primarily, but not exclusively, at single adults or couples, who have been in emergency accommodation for six months or more over the last year.

In February, the Peter McVerry Trust opened nine Housing First units in Kilbeggan.

First developed in the United States in the early 1990s, the Housing First model is now internationally recognised as the most effective approach in providing people with the supports needed to help them leave long term homelessness. In the past, homeless services in Ireland and many other countries used the staircase recovery model that requires service users to prove that they could live in homeless shelter and, if needed, to have successfully completed a drug or alcohol rehabilitation programme before they would be given permanent accommodation.

"Housing First principles mean that a client’s ongoing needs are not an impediment to gaining a home; rather the client is placed first in the property and wrap around specialist services, contracted via this tender process, are put in place by housing and health practitioners. HF will work in tandem with existing homeless services in the region on a complimentary basis," said Kieran Butler, Westmeath County Council's housing officer.

According to the council's own figures there were 26 Westmeath adults staying in temporary accommodation at the end of June of this year. The figure does not include the number of children who are staying in temporary accommodation.

At a recent meeting to discuss the finances of Westmeath County Council, head of finance Jimmy Dalton revealed that in the first six months of the year, 80% of the homeless budget had been spent.

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