An MLA has branded the level of homelessness in Newtownabbey “unacceptable” after it emerged the area has 238 homeless families with kids.
The shocking figure was revealed in response to an Assembly question by East Antrim Alliance MLA Roy Beggs, which showed that when combined Newtownabbey’s two Housing Executive offices had the third highest level of homelessness in the Province after North and West Belfast.
In total, 238 Newtownabbey families with children were accepted as full duty applicants (FDA) by the Housing Executive in 2015/16.
This means that they met the four statutory tests of eligibility to define being homeless: homelessness, eligibility for assistance, being in priority need and being unintentionally homeless, and are indicated as “accepted” by the Housing Executive.
The total number of families in that situation in Newtownabbey was lower in 2013/14, with 197 seeking assistance, and decreased slightly to 196 in 2014/15 before climbing considerably with 42 more homeless families in the past year.
In total, 4,100 homeless families with children across the Province were accepted as full duty applicants (FDA) by the Housing Executive in 2015/16.
Reacting to the figures, Mr Beggs called for action to tackle the increasing levels of homelessness sweeping the country.
“More needs to be done by the Northern Ireland Executive to end homelessness amongst families with children in particular,” he stated.
“The Executive should be working to protect our most vulnerable and ensure that no family, especially one with children and young people, is faced with homelessness.
“A home is a very basic human requirement and the absence of a stable home and learning environment can set a child’s development back from their very early years.
“I have submitted a follow-up question asking the Minister for Communities what action he is taking to reduce the unacceptable number of families with children and young people currently in temporary accommodation.
“In light of these figures it is important to recognise the efforts of volunteers and the Housing Executive staff to find accommodation for those who are homeless. But the NI Executive needs to do more to assist them.”
Director of Homelessness Services for the Simon Community Paddy McGettigan said that Newtownabbey had seen a “more significant upward change” in the number of homeless families than the neighbouring areas of Carrick and Larne, which have 70 and 35 homeless families respectively.
The charity has a family accommodation service on Conway Street in West Belfast, but does not have family accommodation in Newtownabbey.
Mr McGettigan stated: “In general the causes of homelessness across Northern Ireland are family breakdown, unsuitable housing, loss of income, loss of rented accommodation and mortgage arrears, so it is possible these factors have contributed to the rise in homelessness presentations.
“While any rise in homelessness is concerning, we do welcome the overall reduction in family presentations (by 82 between 2014/15 and 2015/16) across Northern Ireland.
“The Assembly needs to recognise homelessness as a priority area by including it in the program for government and by implementing a crosscutting governmental strategy to end homelessness with clear inputs from all departments and likewise clear targets relating to how they will contribute the strategy.
“There should be a clear indication on when homelessness would be ended, however we would not expect this to be achievable within this term and there needs to be cross party commitment that whatever happens going forward this will remain a priority regardless of what parties lead the assembly,” he concluded.