How business leaders can help solve our homeless crisis

A €10,000 annual contribution for five years can provide a solution for one person

There are more than 5,000 adults and children homeless in the Dublin region alone. Photograph: Alan Betson

There are more than 5,000 adults and children homeless in the Dublin region alone. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The vast majority of readers of The Irish Times’ business pages are unaffected by the escalating problem of homelessness – a problem that is outside our span of experience and, on first consideration, its solutions seem to be beyond our skill set.

The most recent data indicates that more than 5,000 adults and children are now homeless in the Dublin region alone – following an alarming increase of 35 per cent over the past year.

More than 1,000 families with children are now classed as homeless and currently living in emergency accommodation; many occupying wholly unsuitable hotel rooms, without facilities for cooking, limited personal privacy and a poor environment for study or play.

At over three times the number back in 2014, it has reached a new high since records began.

More than 100 rough sleepers are on the streets of Dublin every night, while a further 69 people without a bed sleep in the Merchants Quay Ireland Night Café. No one really knows how many homeless people are couch-surfing or spending their nights in internet cafes.

A dearth of supply of suitable homes, leading to an escalating cost of rental properties, is pushing more families into homelessness.

Increasing inequalities

These market forces have created a situation that is probably the most socially damaging of all of the increasing inequalities in Irish society.

There is a renewed political focus on finding a solution.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney’s recently published Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness – produced following some intensive engagement with the relevant stakeholders – has been widely acclaimed as a genuine effort to address many of the supply issues.

Clear and transparent targets have been set: the commitment to provide 47,000 new social housing units by 2021 (with funding of over €5billion) and the aim to practically eliminate the use of hotels rooms as emergency accommodation by mid-2017.

Plans have been developed to overcome the barriers to growth of the private rental sector – making better use of empty premises and encouraging investment in specialist student accommodation and other “build-to-rent” opportunities.

The charity sector has also upped its game. Organisations such as the Simon Communities, Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust, and the Capuchin Centre have responded to the desperate demand for assistance with enhanced programmes and added capacity.

Business leaders can also be part of the solution, by engaging with the Government’s housing strategy and the initiatives of these homelessness charities and aligning their resources and respective expertise.

Investors in the recovering construction sector need to meet the need for affordable housing, seeking out innovative new approaches, such as modular build techniques and creative funding models for “build-to-rent” schemes.

Government can take steps to ensure that sufficient returns are possible on such investments, allowing market forces to naturally be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.

Beyond this profit-motivated involvement, businesses and individuals can help to meet the needs of those in the most desperate positions.

For many who have already fallen into the homelessness trap, market forces alone may not be sufficient to provide a lifeline.

Donors

Dublin Simon Community have recently developed a new Capital Development Fund, aiming to raise €20 million equity funding from private donors and businesses, to establish homes for over 500 individuals in 280 housing units by 2020.

The initial project, to demonstrate how the fund will operate, aims to construct 20 individual high support residential units, providing a solution to 20 long-term homeless single people with mental health, addiction and personal care needs.

The cost of €3.1 million will be funded by equity of €1 million and mortgage debt, to be repaid via rent allowances and small contributions from the tenants.

That financially sustainable initiative was launched last week, using a powerful video produced by creative agency Irish International and Element Productions.

Dublin Simon successfully secured the necessary 20 donors, each committing €10,000 per year for the next five years, raising a total of €1 million.

Creating and funding another 19 similar projects over the next four years would realise Dublin Simon’s Capital Development Fund ambitions.

Unacceptable statistics

The shocking and unacceptable homelessness statistics reflect a problem that should be fixed; an issue that can be addressed through the investment of the combined energy and resources of the Government, charities and donors.

Some readers of the business pages have come through the recession with minimal negative impact, some have built highly profitable businesses and others have successfully exited.

Charities, such as Dublin Simon, have developed structures and opportunities to allow such successful business people to engage, knowing that their €10,000 annual contribution for five years can provide a permanent solution for a highly dependent homeless person, a stranger they are unlikely ever to meet.

Seems like a good investment.

Michael Carey is chairman of Bord Bia, managing director of East Coast Bakehouse, and co-founder/director of the Soul of Haiti Foundation. Twitter: @careyonfood

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