A death in Dublin

Homelessness

 

The death of John Corrie, who was sleeping in a doorway near Leinster House on Monday night, was a shocking and shaming event. But, as Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin observed, it should not become a one-day outrage. The incidence of homelessness and of individuals sleeping rough has become chronic in this society. Before fingers of blame are pointed, however, politicians should remember that fifty-five people died while sleeping rough in 2006. The average age was 42 years.

When the Simon Community estimated the number of homeless people had risen to ten thousand, fourteen years ago, the government drew up ambitious plans. In the following decade, however, as the Celtic Tiger roared and a property bubble inflated, the needs of those families and individuals took a back seat. Local authority waiting lists trebled as councils outsourced their housing requirements and sold off existing stock. Home building stopped with the crash and the consequences - in terms of rising rents and property prices - are now having a devastating effect at the lower end of the market.

Homelessness and rough sleeping have complex causes. They have been identified and reported upon in many official reports. But the political will to invest the necessary resources to tackle the poverty and social discrimination that contributed to these outcomes faded in the face of conflicting demands from elsewhere. Consider this: in 2005, at a time of so-called full employment, soup kitchens operated in Dublin and fifteen districts were returning unemployment rates of twenty-five per cent that guaranteed persistent and acute poverty. Parts of Limerick and other cities were similarly affected. Core needs involved the provision of jobs along with integrated family healthcare, education, housing and welfare services by State agencies.

Those who shout loudest are listened to in this society while the poor are largely ignored. When money was formally voted for social housing and mental health services in the past, it was diverted to other purposes. Archbishop Martin spoke about “a deeply divided Dublin” in making his case for those in need. Unfortunately, that malaise has spread its tentacles well beyond the Pale. Homeless and rough sleeping is well established and the general causes are well known.

There is no point in embarking on limited political programmes that will repeat old mistakes. A more radical approach is required from Government. Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has convened an emergency forum on homelessness and rough sleeping in Dublin tomorrow where combined efforts will be required to meet short-term, winter requirements. Emergency accommodation is certainly required, but the underlying social problems and solutions lie much deeper.