Four things Government should do to help homeless people

‘I spoke to one man who left State care at 18 and was sent straight to a homeless hostel’

John Smyth, a homeless man with a drug problem speaks about sleeping rough in Dublin and the death of John Corrie the 43-year-old homeless man who died just yards from Leinster House. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

I write this with sadness after the tragic death of a man sleeping rough this week. I offer my own – and Focus Ireland’s – deepest condolences to the family of Jonathan Corrie. May he rest in peace. There must be time to grieve, for privacy and respect.

As a society we must ask what can be done to prevent future tragedies?

Rough-sleeping is getting worse. Latest figures show a 20 per cent rise in the numbers sleeping rough in Dublin since last year and an increase in Cork.

Staff from Focus Ireland’s street outreach team (run in partnership with Peter McVerry Trust) are on the streets every night.

They help get people into emergency accommodation.

This is difficult as the emergency system is struggling to cope. Some nights there are not enough beds. Also, people don’t want to go to some hostels as they don’t feel safe there for many reasons – including addiction and mental health. Hostels don’t meet everybody’s needs, but the bottom line is that there must be enough quality emergency accommodation – with supports.

People who have addiction issues should have access to specialised services such as Focus Ireland’s Caretakers Hostel which caters specially for people rough sleeping with addiction issues. There must also be enough beds in other facilities which are drug free.

I recently spoke to one young man who left State care at 18 and was sent straight to a homeless hostel as he had nowhere to go. He told me how people were using drugs in the same room as him. How can it be acceptable to put a vulnerable teenager in harm’s way like this? Luckily Focus Ireland housed the young man and he was able to keep up his education.

Sadly, I have seen over the years that not every story turns out this way. We must protect people at the earliest stage possible. We can’t stand over a system that puts people in harm’s way. The harsh reality is that many people sleeping rough have been repeatedly failed by the State. They never got support to stop a problem from becoming a full-blown crisis or the opportunity to live independently.

Crisis situation

We must stop the growing number of people becoming homeless rather than just call for more emergency beds. The long-term answer is not more beds but providing more homes, supports and prevention measures. There are specific actions required to do this.

1 The Government can prevent more people becoming homeless. It must enable people to access accommodation by increasing rent supplement to match market rents; introducing tax breaks for landlords so it is feasible for them to lease properties; and provide greater security for tenants by regulating rents.

2 Ensure no young person leaving State care goes into homeless services. Focus Ireland has warned of the growing homeless crisis for young people leaving State care. This must be addressed if further tragedies are to be prevented.

3 Ensure there is early access to drug and alcohol rehab services and steps taken to tackle existing waiting lists. There must also be enough quality emergency accommodation with supports.

4 The Government must provide funding for local community services as required nationwide. There have been savage cuts to these services which support people and communities. These cuts must be reversed.

These services in the most marginalised areas can be a support that stops a young person falling into abusing drugs or alcohol.

As a society we have a duty to ensure people have a home. One where they have the support they need to deal with problems they may be struggling with.

We know this approach works as Focus Ireland is doing this in many cases through our own work.

However, despite all the good work by Focus Ireland the situation is continuing to deteriorate as there is a critical shortage of affordable accommodation.

A shocking total of 800 children and their families became homeless this year.

The State has taken some action to help but it’s clearly not enough. More needs to be done.

Focus Ireland welcomed the €2.2 billion social housing investment over the next three years and the launch of the Government’s social housing strategy.

This is the investment and long-term planning needed for years. It must be built upon to make up for decades of social housing neglect.

First homes

This must include better access to affordable housing.

This will help to prevent and combat homelessness for many people. Especially the growing numbers who are homeless purely for economic reasons.

I have outlined some of the actions that Focus Ireland staff are working hard to advance. But to protect these people much more needs to be done.

I think the hardest thing to do as a person or as a society is to look in the mirror and ask honestly,“What more can I do to solve this, what are my failings in this problem?”

This is something the Government – and all of us in our society – must do to help prevent future tragedies.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy is life president and founder of Focus Ireland

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