Homeless charity sees rising demand


The homeless charity Focus Ireland has seen a sharp rise in demand for its services and has warned that it is stretched to the limit because of the recession.

The charity reported a rise of nearly 15 per cent in the number of people who used its support and prevention services last year. Some 7,459 people benefited from these services.

Focus Ireland also saw a rise of almost 40 per cent in the number of people - 2,500 - using its advice and information services in Dublin last year.

The charity said it was increasingly working with people who had run into housing difficulties and were at risk of becoming homeless.

Its president Sister Stan Kennedy referred to one man seeking help who told how he had never been out of work a day in his life.

“Then he lost his job before Christmas, his relationship had broken up and he became homeless as he couldn’t get access to rent supplement due to a long delay,” she said. “His story shows the human face behind these policy failures.”

Sister Stan warned of a deepening homeless crisis in the coming years unless decisive action was urgently taken.

She said that cuts to the rent supplement scheme were causing some people to become homeless and were blocking a route out of homelessness for others.

“Our staff see people deteriorate before their eyes each week they are homeless. We support them as best we can but being homeless still causes terrible damage to families and single people.”

Sister Stan said we were “almost witnessing a return to the values of the Poor Law times in Ireland, where only a person must be completely destitute before they get any help, and when they do, they are expected to live in conditions unacceptable for others in society”.

The Poor Law Act provided for the establishment of workhouses around the country to combat widespread poverty.

Focus Ireland has called on the Government to set a target of providing 1,600 housing units for homeless people this year and next year to help end long-term homelessness by the end of 2013.

The Government’s homeless strategy set a deadline of ending long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough by the end of 2010 but this was not achieved.

Focus Ireland chief executive Joyce Loughnan said a new deadline of December 2013 was achievable with the right mix of housing and support strategies.

She said it was “vital” for the Government to ensure that Nama played a key role in solving homelessness. A survey carried out for Focus Ireland by Amárach Research found that 85 per cent of the public agreed that empty houses under Nama control should be made available for use, at a reasonable rent, to homeless people.

According to Focus Ireland, up to 5,000 people are homeless at any given time in Ireland. A small number sleep rough but most stay in emergency accommodation including hostels and B&Bs.