‘Providing beds is a reaction to homelessness, providing housing is a response’
The Peter McVerry Trust has adopted the innovative Housing First policy, an internationally recognised solution to homelessness with an 85 per cent success rate, according to its chief executive Pat Doyle
Pat Doyle: “Housing First means you offer the person the keys to a home straightaway rather than put them through treatment and other programmes first.” Photograph: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
There is a big difference to responding to a crisis and merely reacting to it, according to Peter McVerry Trust chief executive Pat Doyle. “Providing beds is a reaction to homelessness, providing housing is a response,” he says.
This philosophy has seen the organisation adopt the innovative “Housing First” policy as its preferred response to the crisis. “Our main aim is to be a Housing First charity,” says Doyle. “This is an internationally recognised solution to homelessness and has an 85 per cent success rate as opposed to 40 per cent for traditional methods. Housing First means you offer the person the keys to a home straightaway rather than put them through treatment and other programmes first.”
Once the individual is in their new home, they are supported through an intensive case-management approach delivered by a multidisciplinary team. This team is made up of addiction counsellors, mental-health nurses, key workers, peer-support workers, and psychologists. “The multidisciplinary and intensive nature of the programme is unique and offers new tenants the best possible chance of maintaining their new home and staying out of homelessness for good,” Doyle says.
The Peter McVerry Trust predicted the emergence of the housing crisis as far back as 2009. Speaking of the “perfect storm” of the economic crisis which caused many people to lose their jobs and their homes, a sudden halt to house-building activity, and almost complete cessation of social house-building activity during the 1990s, Doyle says the crisis was inevitable but not unavoidable.
“We have been predicting since then that we would see growing numbers of families moving into homelessness. The move away from social housing construction has been a key factor.”
He points out the private rental market was traditionally a safety valve for people who fell into homelessness rather than a solution to the problem. Single people or even families who found themselves without a home could move into private rental accommodation for a period while waiting for social housing to become available but that is no longer the case due to shortages in both areas.
While welcoming the commitments under the Rebuilding Ireland programme, Doyle also notes that homelessness is not a homogeneous problem. “There will be between 4,000 and 5,000 units built every year under Rebuilding Ireland and we welcome that, of course,” he says. “But 46 per cent of homeless people are single and most of the houses that will be built are four- or five-bed units and are neither suitable nor affordable for single people. We need a mix of dwellings with duplexes and one-bed apartments in the same buildings.”
While Housing First remains the strategic priority for the charity, it has also had to play its role in the reaction to the crisis. “We are providing an additional 70 beds in conjunction with Dublin City Council and the Dublin Regional Housing Executive to tackle the growing number of people on the streets,” Doyle explains.
“We are also opening three new family hubs. We opened the first with five family suites in Swords this week and will open another with seven suites on the Malahide Road later this month. We will open a third in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area before the end of the year and that will have 17 family suites. Those 29 family suites and 70 emergency beds are all being provided in conjunction with the local authorities and at the request of the local authorities and the department. We’d prefer not to be opening any beds and hubs and to be able to focus on Housing First but we don’t really have an option at the moment.”
Progress is being made on Housing First as well, however, and the charity recently launched a new international partnership with the Pathways Housing First Institute (USA). “The aim of this partnership is to ensure that as we continue to expand our Housing First work that we do so in line with international best practice. Our plan is to increase the use of the Housing First approach for rough sleepers, those who are long-time shelter residents, young people exiting care and those exiting institutions such as prison and hospitals. At the moment, we have 25 Housing-First participants in our programme and this sits alongside our Housing First regional project that we co-deliver on behalf of the DRHE [Dublin Region Homeless Executive] and local authorities where we have created 167 tenancies to date.”
Doyle is grateful for the support received from the business community for the work of the Peter McVerry Trust. “We need big business to back us,” he says. “It costs €7,000 to €8,000 to kit out an apartment. We will be opening 20 apartments before Christmas and we will need to kit them out. We also need businesses to look at their own property. One developer is giving us the use of a building which they won’t be able to use for a number of years, for example. Other businesses are sponsoring family hubs and apartments. We also get help from volunteers, from businesses who assist in various ways while they also get insights into what it is like to work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”