Funding not the problem in homelessness fight, says expert

Focus on emergency shelter ‘expensive and ineffective’, Dublin conference hears

Prof Eoin O’Sullivan said what was needed was to move people through homeless services as quickly as possible and straight into housing, with supports if necessary. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Prof Eoin O’Sullivan said what was needed was to move people through homeless services as quickly as possible and straight into housing, with supports if necessary. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The failure to end homelessness was not about funding but about how the issue was addressed, a leading expert on the issue has said.

Prof Eoin O’Sullivan of the school of social policy at Trinity College Dublin, said central Government funding for homelessness services had “risen rapidly” to €55 million this year, not including contributions from local authorities, the HSE and from fundraising.

“So, this is not about money. Sufficient funding is going into homeless services, but there is something to do with the way we deliver these services,” he said.

Prof O’Sullivan said the reaction to homelessness was often a “knee-jerk” one of providing emergency shelter. This was expensive and ineffective, he told a European conference on homelessness in Dublin on Friday.

What was needed was to move people through homeless services as quickly as possible and straight into housing, with supports if necessary, he said.

“One of the difficulties I think is the way in which homelessness is presented in Ireland. When we look at the dominant images . . . the [charity] posters that you see regularly all give us the impression that homelessness is about rough sleeping,” he said. “They don’t however address the problem,” he said.

Campaigns seeking hats for the homeless, showing park-benches and appealing for funds to buy sleeping bags, toothpaste and socks “don’t really help,” he said.

They gave the impression there was a “massive problem with rough sleeping” when in fact the numbers sleeping rough was “relatively low”, Mr O’Sullivan said.

Housing-led approach

While there was an acceptance of the need to move away from shelter-led responses and formally Ireland had adopted a housing-led approach, in reality there were very few such projects.

Meanwhile, the numbers in emergency accommodation had been rising over the last 18 months.

“Despite our ambition to end homelessness by 2016 the trends are all in the wrong direction. The number of homeless adults in emergency accommodation funded by the State has increased from about 2,500 in April 2014 to nearly 3,500 in August of this year.”

As more emergency beds were provided, they filled up, he said. Once they are in the “shelter” system people struggled to exit it, he said.

He cited the provision of more than 200 new emergency beds for single adults last winter, following the death of Jonathan Corrie, who had been sleeping rough near Leinster House. These filled and remained full, despite the fact there were not 200 people sleeping rough in Dublin at the time, he said.