End to homelessness by 2016 ‘achievable’ if funding available

Academic sceptical about claims Ireland is facing ‘tsunami of homelessness’

“It’s about diverting some of the money from the emergency service to long-term support and secure accommodation,” Eoin O’Sullivan said. Photograph: Alan Betson.

“It’s about diverting some of the money from the emergency service to long-term support and secure accommodation,” Eoin O’Sullivan said. Photograph: Alan Betson.

 

The target to end homelessness by 2016 can be achieved if funding is diverted from expensive emergency accommodation to long-term sustainable homes, an international expert on Irish social policy has claimed.

Speaking yesterday at a symposium on the Ethics of ‘Home’: Direct Provision, Homelessness and Ireland’s Housing Policies, Eoin O’Sullivan, professor of social work and social policy at Trinity College Dublin, said he was sceptical about claims that Ireland was facing a tsunami of homelessness.

“I think there is undoubtedly a housing issue, but whether that’s going to translate into hundreds of thousands of people becoming homeless . . . I would be sceptical about that,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

Fr Peter McVerry recently said that Ireland was facing a “tsunami of homelessness” and claimed the problem was the worst he had experienced in more than 40 years. He said the Peter McVerry Trust was having to turn people away for the first time as demand outstripped the supply of beds.

A number of housing service providers and representatives from Focus Ireland, Doras Luimni and the Novas Initiative attended the symposium in Limerick, which was organised by the University of Limerick as part of President Michael D Higgins’s nationwide ethics initiative.

“There are pressures on the housing market, but there have been pressures before and it doesn’t always translate into huge numbers of homeless people. There is a target to end homelessness by 2016 and I think that is achievable,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

About 2,500 people currently live in emergency or transitional accommodation in Ireland, according to Mr O’Sullivan, who has written extensively on homelessness in Ireland and Europe.

“We spend a lot of money on homeless services, anything up to €90 million a year between funding from the Department of the Environment, the Health Service Executive and funding from the local authorities.

“That’s a lot of money for a relatively small number of people, and the reason it costs a lot of money is because we provide them with very expensive emergency and other inappropriate accommodation.

Long-term support

“It’s not going to come from one source but there are a number of places where accommodation can be attained from,” he said.

The focus of the symposium was on the ethics of housing policy in the domains of homelessness and direct-provision accommodation for asylum seekers. It was chaired by Ronni Michelle Greenwood, lecturer in psychology at UL.“It is deeply important to the character of Ireland that we provide affordable quality private homes to members of our society who are the most disenfranchised,” she said.

Dáithí Downey, deputy director and head of policy at the Dublin Region Homeless Executive also spoke, along with Liam Thornton, lecturer in law and director of clinical legal education at UCD’s school of law.