State clearly needs to do more about homelessness, says Murphy

Minister urges councils to come up with ‘tailored’ solutions ahead of emergency summit

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said the homelessness crisis was “neither resources, nor money nor ideology. A huge amount is being done but clearly more is needed.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said the homelessness crisis was “neither resources, nor money nor ideology. A huge amount is being done but clearly more is needed.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Charities involved in helping homeless families have criticised the Minister for Housing for claiming “ideology” does not play a role in the housing crisis.

Eoghan Murphy said at the weekend that the problem around housing was “neither resources, nor money, nor ideology” and that a “huge amount is being done but clearly more is needed”.

The Minister’s comments followed the announcement that the chief executives of all 31 local authorities along with their housing department personnel will attend an emergency summit on homelessness in the Custom House on Friday.

Local authorities are being asked to identify “innovative and tailored solutions to the particular housing and homelessness issues that are arising in their particular local authority area at this time” ahead of Friday’s meeting.

The Minister is under pressure after the third death of a homeless person this week and an escalating housing crisis which is seeing a shortage of both properties to rent and buy in major cities.

He said at the weekend that his review of the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland policy would be announced shortly and that he expected it to have “a positive impact”.

Focus Ireland has stressed the need to address family homelessness in Rebuilding Ireland review with “a cast-iron time frame that no family will be allowed to remain as homeless for longer than six months”.

The housing charity criticised the Government for voting down the so-called Focus Ireland anti-homelessness amendment late last year which called for an end to evictions of tenants in buy-to-let properties that were being sold or repossessed.

“While we don’t doubt the minister’s determination to tackle this issue, we would question the statement that it’s not a matter of ideology,” Focus Ireland Advocacy Manager Roughan MacNamara told The Irish Times. “We’re never going to tackle this problem if we don’t reduce the flow of people coming into homelessness.

“There is a failure to understand how critical that obvious point is that you need to cut the numbers coming in and not just look at the emergency measures when they’re homeless. This is a question of ideology. It’s putting property rights ahead of the rights of tenants.”

Focus Ireland is also calling on the Government to make the €5.35 billion earmarked for 47,000 new homes in the Rebuilding Ireland plan more easily accessible to local authorities, saying the current mechanism makes investment in social housing “a complex, cumbersome and slow process”.

A spokesman from the Peter McVerry trust accused the Department of Housing and local authorities of playing “political football” rather then delivering on their obligations to Irish citizens.

“Local authorities must walk away from Friday’s meeting knowing they have to start building immediately on their land,” said Francis Doherty from the Trust. “Without local authorities leading on social and affordable housing construction we’re not going to solve the crisis.”

Mr Doherty called on the minister to focus solely on public sector housing in the coming months rather than “throwing all their energy and resources behind the private sector”.

Mr Murphy announced the homelessness summit would be held following the death of two homeless people – a man in his 50s on Suffolk Street in Dublin and a 26-year-old mother-of-two in a hostel in Co Kildare during the week.

Since that announcement, a third homeless person has died. On Friday, afternoon, a woman in Cork, who recently became homeless, was found dead in a tent in Gillabbey Park near University College Cork on the west side of Cork city.

Mr Murphy said people had difficulties that required Government assistance “beyond simple shelter or housing needs. Sometimes, no matter what we do, it won’t be enough. But people shouldn’t be dying on the streets. People deserve more dignity than that.”

Mr Murphy has been criticised by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Mícheál Mac Donncha for not accepting an invitation to attend the September monthly meeting of Dublin City Council. He is conducting a review of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government programme launched last year to address the housing crisis and declined to attend the council meeting until the review was complete.

Cllr Mac Donncha, of Sinn Féin, said it was “absolutely vital” Mr Murphy heard from city councillors about the situation in the largest local authority where the housing crisis is most acute.

He said: “We have just had a summer during which the housing crisis worsened, with growing numbers of people experiencing homelessness, including families with children, with private rents rising relentlessly in Dublin and the supply of housing far outstripped by housing need. Government policy, with its over-reliance on the market to deliver housing, has clearly failed.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on housing Barry Cowen said the crisis in homelessness had gone beyond party politics and has become a fundamental issue for Irish society.

He said the fact that just 200 social houses were built by local authorities last year was “frankly shameful” and accused the Government of issuing a “ never ending list of reports, reviews and wishful announcements”.

“The death of three people who were homeless is a symbol of the terrifying, distressing implications of an unacceptable and ever-escalating crisis that has become the most major challenge of our time.

“Whether there are other factors at play in these deaths or not, these are Irish citizens that deserved better and at the very least a basic standard of living.”