Focus Ireland says one family a day becomes homeless

Charity says blame for ‘lack of urgent action’ lies at the door of Government

 Mark Kennedy, chairman The Homeless Oversight Group, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy  and Mark Byrne, CEO, at the launch of the Focus Ireland Annual Report, in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Mark Kennedy, chairman The Homeless Oversight Group, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy and Mark Byrne, CEO, at the launch of the Focus Ireland Annual Report, in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 01:00

One family a day is ending up homeless despite repeated Government pledges to tackle the housing crisis, campaigners have warned.

Speaking at the launch of Focus Ireland’s annual report, the charity’s founder Sr Stanislaus Kennedy said homelessness is getting worse right across the country.

“While the Government accepted before the elections in May that the housing and homeless situation is at crisis point, we have yet to see the urgent response a crisis demands,” Sr Stan said.

“The blame for this can only be laid at the door of the Government and only the Government can stop this from happening in many cases.”

Increased rents

Rents are up by about 14 per cent in the capital over the past year, while wages and rent supplement payments have remained stagnant. The average rental increase over the past year is about 9 per cent.

Some 39 families became homeless last month. Almost all of these cases involved people who couldn’t afford to pay their rent due to a shortfall between rent supplement – which is capped – and the rising cost of rent, according to Focus.

In total, about 150 families are being housed in hotels by local authorities in Dublin due to a shortage of emergency beds for homeless people.

The charity said a number of steps could be taken immediately, such as an increase in the rent supplement or the introduction of rent control.

“The simple fact is that Government policy on rent supplement is one of the immediate causes of the sharp rise of family homelessness in Ireland, ” St Stan said.

“The Government could stop many families from losing their homes with a stroke of a pen tomorrow. It is not credible for the Government to accept the situation is at crisis point yet not change its policy on this key cause of homelessness.”

Rent control ruled out

However, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has ruled out rent control as a way of tackling high housing costs. In an Irish Times interview this week, he said increasing the supply of homes was a better way of tackling the crisis.

Rent supplement caps are under review, according to the Government, but any changes are unlikely until much later this year.

At the launch of its annual report yesterday, Focus reported a 25 per cent increase in the number of people using its prevention and support services last year.

In all, it supported more than 10,000 people – who were homeless or at risk of losing their homes – in 2013 compared to 8,000 in 2012.

Rising demand for support is continuing, with latest figures showing it has worked with 8,000 people in the first six months of this year alone.

The charity’s acting chief executive Mark Byrne called on the Government to invest more in social housing.

A €500 million investment fund for local authority homes would provide 3,000 housing units and create much-needed employment.

Mr Byrne said that while there has been good work at a policy level in recent years putting in place a “housing first” approach to homelessness, money was needed to speed up the delivery of housing.

The charity said there are still up to 5,000 people who are homeless while just under 100,000 households are on housing waiting lists nationwide.

“The lack of provision of housing has blocked progress and means the Government will not meet its target to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016.” he added.