Limited success tackling homelessness in Derry, says auditor

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The authorities have had limited success addressing homelessness in Derry and, remarkably, do not regularly count the number of people sleeping rough in the city, according to the Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) Kieran Donnelly.

Mr. Donnelly’s new report on ‘Homelessness in Northern Ireland,’ which examines the scale of the problem across the North, found that the last official count of rough sleepers in Derry - nearly 10 years ago - showed the phenomenon was more of an issue than in the larger Belfast area.

“An exercise commissioned by NIHE in 2015 found that on average six people sleep rough in Belfast each night: an earlier 2008 exercise in Derry found an average of eight rough sleepers a night,” reports Mr. Donnelly.

The NIAO chief also reveals that 12 crisis beds at First Housing’s Damien House facility in John Street had utilisation rates of over 80 per cent in each of the past five years.

“The homelessness trends reflected in official Departmental statistics indicate that the aim of reducing homelessness over the course of the [NIHE] Homelessness Strategy 2012-17 has experienced limited success,” said Mr. Donnelly.

However, he warned that rough sleeping was a tiny part of the problem.

Statutory homelessness, for example, has increased by 32 per cent over the past five years.

He added: “Contrary to popular belief, homelessness is not restricted to people who sleep rough, it encompasses a much wider range of individuals in a variety of circumstances.”

According to the NIAO the statutory homeless rate per thousand households is disproportionately higher in the North than other UK regions.

“The Department and NIHE have put forward a number of reasons for this but they are not supported by evidence.”