Homeless crisis ‘damaging fabric of society’ – Focus Ireland

Sr Stan says society invited to see homeless people as ‘other’ and ‘undeserving’

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy,  president, Focus Ireland: ‘Homelessness is solvable. It isn’t a natural disaster. It can be solved with the right priorities.’ Photograph:  Don Moloney

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, president, Focus Ireland: ‘Homelessness is solvable. It isn’t a natural disaster. It can be solved with the right priorities.’ Photograph: Don Moloney

 

The homeless crisis is affecting not only thousands of people in emergency accommodation but is “damaging the fabric of our society”, the founder of the lead agency working with homeless families has warned.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, president of Focus Ireland, also said a quarter of homeless families were headed by “often very vulnerable” parents under 25 years of age.

She was speaking on Thursday at the publication of the charity’s 2017 annual report which shows Focus Ireland supported a record 14,500 people last year – up over 7 per cent on the 13,500 it helped in 2016.

It worked with more than 1,000 homeless families and supported 1,065 households out of homelessness and into homes.

In a strongly worded address Sr Stan said housing officials “invited” the rest of society to see homeless people as “other”, “undeserving” and to “turn away”.

She rebuked Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy for controversially removing almost 600 people from homelessness figures earlier this year saying he was “yet to explain how he did it but he did it without any consultation”.

She accused him of doing “very little” to address the causes of homelessness.

Injustice

While homelessness cost the State financially, and individuals personally, she said there was a “deeper cost if we accept the injustice of homelessness”.

“Housing officials are inviting us to think that homeless families are gaming the system . . . We’re told many of the homeless people aren’t Irish.

“What we are being invited to do is turn away, to see homeless families as undeserving, that they are ‘other’ or ‘not us’. When we hear this over and over again it seeps into people’s psyche. It affects our perception, our attitude and our behaviour.

“All of this is not only affecting homeless people, it is damaging the fabric of society, diminishing the caring aspect of society,” she said.

“Homelessness is solvable. It isn’t a natural disaster. It can be solved with the right priorities. It is the result of poor policies and lack of priority by successive governments . . . If the Government is challenged about the situation, they come back to tell us how much they are spending on homelessness. And they are – a lot of money.”

Bitter truth

However, “the bitter truth is that the situation is getting worse” and “will get worse before it gets better”.

Family homelessness was “like having a whole family in care” and “even more worrying . . . a quarter of the families are headed by parents who are under 25”.

“That means 450 families whose parents have only recently become adults. They are often very vulnerable and get no additional supports, but are often singled out for blame or criticism.”

The most recent data, for May, shows there were 1,312 families, including 2,777 children, in emergency accommodation nationally. In Dublin there were 1,099 families, including 2,266 children.

Housing, she said, was a social response to a social need, and not a commodity. “Unfortunately, Government has adopted the commodity model for housing. We cannot entrust a social need to the market. The market has different values. It is about greed. It has no conscience.”