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We should take lessons from tackling homelessness during pandemic, says Armstrong

The lessons of the response to the pandemic should be taken to help end rough sleeping in Northern Ireland, Alliance Communities spokesperson Kellie Armstrong MLA has said.

The Strangford MLA said the future Homelessness Strategy by the Housing Executive, due to be published next year, as well as various other agencies’ approaches to tackling the issue could be informed by the methods employed during the COVID crisis.

“During the first lockdown, agencies worked together to ensure anyone sleeping on the streets was provided with safe and secure accommodation. That unprecedented collaboration between the Department for Communities (DFC) and health and housing colleagues identified options for people without permanent accommodation. As we continue to move through the pandemic, it is essential the positive lessons are learned and the ‘everyone in’ principles of joint working become the norm.

“We have had a number of reports over the years seeking to address homelessness and end rough sleeping. Now we need to plan ahead, with a multi-year commitment from those same agencies to do what those reports have called for. If we could do it during the pandemic, we can do it now.

“DFC’s recent announcement of an investment to fully fund the Housing Executive’s COVID-19 Reset Plan is welcome but as the temporary COVID accommodation programmes begin to wind down, more is needed. We need a Housing Outcome in the Executive’s Programme for Government, to ensure that Plan continues to be resourced and funded. In addition, I encourage people to respond to the Housing Executive’s consultation on its draft homelessness strategy.

“While the number of rough sleepers in Northern Ireland is significantly less than in other jurisdictions of the UK, we still need to provide suitable accommodation and to invest in prevention measures. I urge all working in this area to learn from the lessons of the pandemic and to respond to need quickly and effectively.”