Homelessness crisis: Is the Government incompetent or disingenuous?

Analysis: Rent control and security of tenure among key solutions

The old Bargaintown building on Greencastle Parade, Coolock, which is being converted to a ‘family hub’ for homeless people. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

The old Bargaintown building on Greencastle Parade, Coolock, which is being converted to a ‘family hub’ for homeless people. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

To listen to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and most recently Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, hold forth on the plight of the spiralling number of homeless children, one would conclude they cared.

Increasingly however, one is forced to wonder: Is this Government incompetent on the homelessness crisis, or disingenuous?

In November 2014, when there were 680 homeless children in Dublin, Kenny told the Dáil: “Clearly there is an emergency here for many of these cases and nobody wants to see a family out on the street, much less children on the street.’’

By the following November there were 1,466 children, in 705 families, homeless in Dublin.

In November 2016, the numbers had climbed to 2,110 children in 1,023 families. The following month, Coveney said solving the homelessness crisis was his “top priority”.

“If the State cannot look after people who literally do not have a roof over their heads, we have to ask ourselves some very serious questions,” he said.

On Thursday, Fitzgerald was in the Dáil responding to emerging details of 12 families, including more than 30 children, having been directed to Garda stations last Tuesday as there were no emergency beds.

Shortly after she spoke in the Dáil, the latest homelessness figures were published by the Department of Housing showing the number of homeless children in Dublin rose last month to 2,262 in 1,091 families.

Fitzgerald commented: “Quite clearly, Garda stations are not suitable places for families to be redirected to in any circumstances.”

Real listening

The words of successive Ministers on this issue now sound so hollow one wonders why they bother. Far more useful would be some real listening – to the pleas from Focus Ireland, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, Barnardos, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and even the United Nations that the Government intervene with robust action to protect families trapped in the private rented sector.

Measures should include rent controls pegging increases to the consumer price index, increased security of tenure, and, protections for tenants in buy-to-lets subject to repossession. Families that become homeless should be guaranteed to spend no longer than six weeks in emergency accommodation, while hotels with rooms available which turn homeless families away should face losing their preferential 9 per cent VAT rating.

Many would also argue that developers, under Part V of the Planning and Development Act, should be mandated to provide far more than the current 10 per cent of housing units for social housing.

Such measures would make a difference and stem the flow of children into homelessness. Instead, it seems, all these homeless children and their families are to be offered are “family hubs” – former industrial buildings, Magdalene laundries and bargain furniture shops converted into glorified apartment hotels.

A knowledgeable source, formerly in a Dublin local authority, said in 2014 that no government would ever take homelessness seriously until it affected their voters.

His words are ringing a lot truer than any Government Minister’s.

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