Tough questions on homelessness need to be addressed

‘There is a potential tsunami of homelessness coming down the road: 35,000 family homes, and 40,000 buy-to-let properties, are in serious danger of repossession and the families evicted, many into homelessness’

 

Report Card: Alan Kelly TD, Minister for the Environment. Mid-term examination on homelessness. Marks: four out of 10. Overall: Pass, but needs to do a lot better. Comments: Minister, you only answered the easier of the two questions on the exam paper, namely: How to eliminate rough sleeping .

The 260 extra emergency beds promised before Christmas should achieve that objective. However, some of the beds are in dormitory-type accommodation.

This will never eliminate rough sleeping, as some people are too frightened to go into dormitory accommodation. They include young, vulnerable homeless people who are afraid of being attacked and robbed, people who are drug-free and are being placed at risk in a dormitory full of drug users, and people who were abused as children who cannot bear sleeping in a room full of strangers. I will deduct one mark from your total for that question.

Your reintroduction of free transport to bring homeless people to a hostel at night is very welcome. But as it is not a new initiative, it does not qualify for extra marks.

The proposal to have an all-night cafe, where people could spend the night, get food and have a shower is a very interesting and innovative idea. If it is successful, I will revisit your mark. But why would a homeless person want to spend the night in a cafe if there was a safe and appropriate bed available to them?

You did not attempt to answer the other, more difficult, question on the paper, namely: How to prevent people from becoming homeless.

The figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive indicate that six additional people are becoming homeless in the Dublin area every day. Many have been thrown out of their private rented accommodation as the rents are no longer affordable. Clearly, you have not attended the lectures given by Focus Ireland, the Simon Community and others, all of whom have stated that the only way to prevent this is either to increase the rent allowance to cover the rent hikes, or to introduce rent controls.

Emergency beds

No room at the inn

I am aware of one family who have been sleeping in the airport. Another have put their children into care, to prevent them having to sleep with their parents on the street. I had a phone call from a couple who asked me if they and their child could sleep in my car.

Most of these people were never homeless before and never for a moment thought they would become homeless. They are in shock.They feel they have failed their children; their self-esteem has hit rock bottom. Sometimes they are suicidal.

Basic shelter

Your response – to instruct local authorities to allocate 50 per cent of social housing units to those who are homeless over the next six months – is very welcome but it does not address the immediate plight of these families.

This brings me to a previous exam you sat in November 2014, which related to the preparation of a social housing strategy. Again, I could only give you four out of 10. The €3.8 billion promised to provide 35,000 social housing units by 2020 was welcome. But that leaves a further 55,000 households on the waiting list.

Your promise to them, that they would be accommodated in the private rented sector, baffles me. Households on low incomes cannot get into this sector, and those already in are being thrown out. The loosely regulated sector is part of the problem, so how it can suddenly become part of the solution escapes me.

You restate the Government’s commitment to eliminating long-term homelessness by 2016. This is Alice in Wonderland politics. There is a potential tsunami of homelessness coming: 35,000 family homes and 40,000 buy-to-let properties are in serious danger of repossession and the families evicted, many into homelessness.

If this dam bursts, your Government will drown. More importantly, thousands more people, including children, will sink into the abyss of homelessness, with no way out.

Peter McVerry is a Jesuit priest working with homeless people Kathy Sheridan is on leave

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