Councillors' support for homeless strategy

The monthly meeting of the council took place at The Braid, Ballymena.
The monthly meeting of the council took place at The Braid, Ballymena.

Mid and East Antrim councillors have agreed to develop a strategy to tackle short and long-term homelessness in the borough.

A motion was brought forward by Councillor Mark McKinty at the January meeting of the local authority.

It read: “That Council convene a conference with the appropriate statutory bodies and other relevant organisations to develop a coordinated strategy which will tackle short and long-term homelessness in our borough, consider the causative factors behind it, and improve the communication process when such situations arise.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr McKinty pointed to a number of factors behind why people may present as homeless. “There might be a breakdown in a relationship, a change in benefit circumstances, or the person could be leaving institutional care and trying to rehabilitate themselves,” he added.

The Larne Lough representative indicated he was “startled” by figures from the Northern Ireland Audit Office which showed a 32 percent increase in homelessness over the past five years.

Seconding the motion, Cllr Stephen Nicholl indicated that a total of 9978 people were in housing stress in 2000, with 8922 housing allocations and 1851 new start builds.

By 2016, the number in housing stress had risen to 22,645; however, housing allocations had fallen to 7800 and new builds to 1568.

“In many cases in Northern Ireland, we have higher levels of this than in the rest of the UK,” he added.

Despite broad agreement over the need for a strategy, a number of councillors raised concerns over the approach proposed.

“A seminar is not going to resolve the issue; we need to make the resources available,” said Ald Jim Brown.

Meanwhile, Cllr Declan O’Loan suggested that a review of the housing points allocation system could be sought.

Responding, Cllr McKinty said the most important part of the motion was the communication process, "that we know as elected reps where to go to and that all the organisations that we are going to engage with know their responsibilities".