Minister describes crisis of family homelessness as ‘an embarrassment’

Sr Stan says homelessness policies show too much concern for ‘the market’

 Minister for Housing,Eoghan Murphy at the opening of 28 new homes at Greenmount Close, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Housing,Eoghan Murphy at the opening of 28 new homes at Greenmount Close, Harold’s Cross, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Government policies to tackle homelessness are failing because they show too much concern for “the market”, veteran housing campaigner Sr Stanisluas Kennedy has warned.

Founder and life president of Focus Ireland, Sr Stan described family homelessness as “a crisis which is outrageous”.

Speaking in the presence of new Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, she noted: “I said in 2015 it was the worst I had ever seen. In 2016 it was worse. It is wrong. It is detrimental to families, to children, to young people. We have failed them. It is a shame on us.

“A key failure of the Government’s response to the homelessness crisis was to respond with half-way houses rather than permanent homes . . .When there have been policy changes they have been delivered in a watered down way, to keep all parties happy. As a result, we have failed to address the underlying structural problems and to effectively tackle the housing problems.

“Today’s policy approach has been made with market incentives in many areas, mixed with good intentions. As a society we are rather muddled in the way we deliver social good. Many times we take the market-model approach but the values of the market place are limited to the market. And the market has no conscience.”

On Thursday, the charity published its annual report and opened a new development of 28 homes, for elderly and disabled social housing applicants, in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

Sr Stan called for penalties for land-hoarding, “binding legislation” to prevent the eviction of tenants when buy-to-let properties are sold, and said the Government “must” set out robust actions it will take over the three years to prevent family homelessness.

“The local authorities must be helped with the finance and human and technical resources to ensure they can provide local authority housing . . . We did it when we were poor. We need to revision our nation as a socially just society where all our people and all our children are cherished equally, not just in theory but in fact. That is the challenge for us.”

Mr Murphy, said: “For me . . . the crisis of homelessness is an embarrassment and the crisis of homeless families is an embarrassment.”

He confirmed the abandonment of the commitment made by his predecessor, Simon Coveney – now Minister for Foreign Affairs – that all homeless families would be out of commercial hotels and B&Bs by the end of June.

“The important thing about the target was that we got the work done, that we brought the resources to bear,” in providing 15 “family hubs” – which provide cooking and other facilities – across the city.

He said he was pleased to announce an additional €10 million to provide family hub spaces for another 200 families, in addition to the 650 currently in hotels who would have an indication of where they will move to, by next week.

“Sr Stan continues to make a very important and impressive contribution to public life. She’s someone who should be listened to,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Murphy told the Oireachtas Committee on Housing that he is examining a change to how the Department of Housing collates its homelessness figures.

He is to consider including women and children in refuges and also families living in direct provision to give a more accurate figure.

The Minister told the committee he has held discussions with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to assess if projects can be funded off-balance and whether public partnerships can be utilised.

Mr Murphy said no idea is too radical and political ideology will not be a barrier in resolving the housing crisis.