Ireland’s homeless numbers ‘normal,’ claims former housing boss

Ciara Malone, a social worker from Monaghan, at a housing protest in Dublin last year (Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie)

PJ Cunningham

As Ireland’s homeless numbers rise inexorably towards 10,000, a former leading housing official claims the government should accept the current situation as “normal.”

Conor Skehan, ex-chairman of the Housing Agency, said it was time Ireland faced up to this fact as fresh figures showed there were 9,968 people living in emergency accommodation at the end of 2018. There were also 156 people sleeping rough in Dublin.

Mr Skehan was strongly critical of the homeless charity sector, pointing out that the Irish government spend €152 million every year to the various organisations dealing with the homeless.

“We need to be challenging people to say if we are giving you this amount of money, you must give us a return… you must give us a reduction in the number of people who find themselves in this situation,” he remarked.

Mr Skehan has been criticised in the past for stating that the country’s housing crisis was “completely normal” and repeated that in his view some families in these situations were “gaming the system.”

Speaking on Irish television last week, he claimed: “We continuously allow ourselves to be goaded by people in advocacy which in any other field would be called lobbying, into trying to ignore the fact that we have equivalent levels of homelessness, which is an incredible human tragedy, to every other major country in Europe. It’s normal,” he said on Irish television.

Thousands of people take to the streets of Dublin to protest and demand Homes for All to the Government last year (Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie)

When pressed to explain what was normal about not having some place to live, Mr Skehan continued: “It’s not normal in the sense that human being go through so many different emotional upheavals in their lives, but there are particular ones that are the equivalent of, we just talked about social media a minute ago, clickbait.

“The ultimate emotional clickbait that can be stimulated in another human being is to say that somebody is without shelter. It makes us vulnerable to emotional manipulation by that clickbait repeatedly pressing that point.”

Confusing

His comments drew an immediate response from the director of advocacy of Focus Ireland, Mike Allen, who said Mr Skehan’s comments were confusing. “On one hand, he believes homelessness is normal yet he doesn’t believe it is normal to have organisations helping people who find themselves without homes,” he told The Journal online news site.

Mr Allen said his organisation’s view was that “homelessness is the result of failed policies. Better policies would reduce homelessness and then we would have fewer homeless organisations,” he emphasised.

Last year Mr Skehan had suggested in a newspaper interview that there should be “performance targets” set for homelessness charities to justify the finances they received.

A rough sleeper in the doorway of the Bank of Ireland on College Green, Dublin. (Photo: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie)

Mr Allen responded at that time by pointing out that all charities already had strict performance targets set across most of their state-funded activities.

He also highlighted how Finland had virtually eliminated long-term homelessness which contradicted the view that homelessness was normal and could not be ended.

Resources

Mr Skehan said that charities who claim they will end the problem begin their career with a lie. He said he had spent his time while in office raising awareness of the problem and ensuring the government got independent and authoritative advice so that resources were directed to the proper channels.

“The measure of a society is not that homelessness does not happen, the measure of the quality of the society we live in is the speed with which we recognise, identify and rectify that situation. That’s the measure,” he stated.

He said the €152 million given to charities could be spent on those people themselves instead of organisations pensions and premises.

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