Charity officials and opposition politicians have strongly criticised the outgoing chair of the Housing Agency over comments he made saying that families may be “gaming the system” by making themselves homeless in order to jump up the social housing waiting list.
Speaking to the Irish Times, Conor Skehan – who will finish up with his role this year after six years – suggested that the government may have “unwittingly created a problem by prioritising self-declared homelessness above all other types of housing need”.
Skehan referenced a measure – introduced in January 2015 – whereby 50% of all social housing allocations in Dublin were to go to homeless people.
This practice was discontinued in July 2016, due to fears that general applicants were being disadvantaged. Dublin City Council still prioritises homeless applicants, however.
Commenting on this measure, Skehan suggested that the prioritisation could be skewing homelessness figures.
“We unwittingly created a problem by prioritising self-declared homelessness above all other types of housing need, which created a distortion in the waiting list system and may have encouraged people to game the system,” he told the Irish Times.
He said that a way of gauging this was to look at if there was a change in the type of people presenting as homeless over the period that prioritisation has been in effect.
“If you were a social scientist analysing it, you might find people who had chaotic lives suddenly being displaced by people who had two or three kids and who have found a way of gaming the system,” said Skehan.
In the interview, Skehan also suggested that homelessness charities should be subject to “performance targets” to justify any state funding they receive. He also said that it was time to stop saying that homelessness can be ended.
The Housing Agency was set up in 2010 and plays a crucial role in addressing housing issues in the state.
Skehan has been strongly criticised for his comments, with homelessness experts and others saying that there was no evidence for the claims that families were “gaming the system”.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin “Conor Skeehan’s comments accusing some homeless families as ‘gaming the system’ are deeply hurtful to the thousands of people living in emergency accommodation,”
Ó Broin pointed towards an April 2016 report from the Housing Agency which examined the impact of the 50% social housing allocation and which failed to show any evidence to back up Skehan’s remarks.
Tonight I want to know if you think Conor Skehan should apologise for his comments.
Or do you agree with him?
Do you think people are making themselves homeless to get a house?