The plight of the homeless is one of the saddest aspects of the hidden Ireland that – day and night – can be fleetingly glimpsed on our streets. The homeless rely on private charity and public funds to help pay for emergency overnight accommodation. For them the accommodation provided serves as a place of refuge and respite, where their safety is ensured and their health protected, albeit briefly. Demand for this social service has grown in line with the economic downturn and the rise in unemployment.
However, private charities and public bodies have been never less able to provide the financial support needed to sustain this service. Figures from the 2011 census showed that 3,808 persons were then classified as homeless. In Dublin some charities for the homeless have now warned that if their funding from the HSE is reduced any further, then some people seeking emergency accommodation might be turned away. It is a stark warning, which envisages a likely deterioration in the provision of care for the homeless.
A survey by the Dublin Homeless Network highlights the problem. It found that the HSE has cut funding to this sector by 20 per cent in four years. For those charities affected, the resulting economies have involved job cuts and longer working hours for fewer staff. Any further cuts in HSE funding could mean the closure of services, where people in need are turned away.
The Government’s avowed aim is to end long-term homelessness by 2016. And some, such as the Department of the Environment and local authorities, have been supportive of that goal and have minimised the cuts made to services for the homeless. The HSE, to judge by its actions, has been less sympathetic. Given the size of the budget that the HSE administers (€13.4 billion), and given the Government’s decision to make ending homelessness a policy priority, with a deadline set for its achievement, the attitude adopted by the HSE is both difficult to understand, and hard to excuse.