Government plan to end rough sleeping by 2016 not feasible, says McVerry

Changing profile of homeless will change politics of the issue, says campaigner

Fr Peter McVerry, SJ with Minister Joan Burton TD at the launch of Peter McVerry Trust Annual Report last year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fr Peter McVerry, SJ with Minister Joan Burton TD at the launch of Peter McVerry Trust Annual Report last year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Thu, Jun 26, 2014, 01:00

The Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by 2016

is no longer “feasible”, housing rights campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has said.

The homelessness campaigner predicted there would be more people homeless in two years than there were now.

Speaking at the publication of the annual report from the Peter McVerry Trust – the housing charity he founded 31 years ago – he said he welcomed the Government strategy to end rough sleeping but questioned whether it would work in the long term.

The Homelessness Implementation Plan was published by Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan last month. It sets out what the Government must do to achieve its objective of ending long-term homelessness by 2016, and is focused exclusively on the homeless population, estimated to be about 2,700.

It calls for a number of measures, including bringing all possible vacant State properties, all suitable Nama units and all vacant local authority dwellings into housing use quickly.

Asked whether he thought the aim of ending long-term homelessness by 2016 was feasible, Fr McVerry said “I don’t think it is.”

Once-off solutions

He said that while the Homelessness Implementation Plan was very welcome, “the fault with it is that it’s a once- off”.

“Once those units are taken back and gone, they’re gone. There is no provision for the people who are becoming homeless and who will over the next two years become homeless. There is no plan to deal with them.

“So while we welcome the implementation plan, my own prediction is there will be more people homeless in 2016 than there are today.”

The changing profile of the homeless population would increase political pressure on Government to address the issue.

“Increasingly homeless people are families, young people with Leaving Certificates, individuals who have no problems except that they don’t have the money to pay for accommodation . . . That’s the new profile of homeless people.

“That is going to change things. These are people who vote, whose families vote and their friends vote. I think that will put pressure on Government to address this more adequately.”

He called for rent controls and regulation of the private rented sector, saying leaving homeless households to “the vagaries of the market is a disaster unless there is strict regulation”.

He was also critical of a key provision of the new housing assistance payment (HAP) which is to replace rent supplement from next year. It will be administered by local authorities rather than the Department of Social Protection. He said the provisions whereby a household in receipt of HAP was deemed to have been “housed” would lead to thousands of households being taken off the social housing waiting lists.

Social housing

While Ms O’Sullivan has countered that such households can apply for a place on the transfer lists and so would still have a “route” into social housing, he said the idea that any such household would succeed in getting a local authority dwelling was a “hopeless fantasy”.