Ireland’s efforts to come to terms with mounting homelessness will be an on-going fight for at least another three years. However, writes PJ Cunningham, despite extra money being put aside by the government, there are fears that the crisis needs upgrading to a full-blown emergency status to tackle the problem head-on.
It’s an all-year-round story but becomes more a winter’s tale when it emerges that the homeless crisis is set to escalate – for another three Christmases at least.
Even then, it will not be obliterated – it will only begin to decrease, according to the director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson.
On a broader context, an Oireachtas committee was told that more social housing was required if the country was seriously to address homelessness in the future.
Ms Gleeson, attending the meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, said it was vital to get to a place “where supply is outstripping demand.”
In the meantime, she said they were working with the department in a bid to find accommodation for homeless people in surrounding counties where there was a surplus of rental outlets.
Ms Gleeson said many in homeless situations were content to go to neighbouring counties once they got proper supports which did not impact on their future eligibility for social housing.
Over the past 16 months, six people had died on the streets – not 27 as one homeless charity had claimed. She said research revealed that the average age of those dying on the streets was 42 – 44 for males and 37 for females.
Prof. Eoin O’Sullivan from the School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College in Dublin explained why the current problem was so acute. It was due to the fact that 10,000 units of private rented housing had been lost in just over a year, he stated.
“So between the escalation of rents and the loss of nearly 10,000 tenancies, I suspect that in a year’s time we will be back with even higher figures on homelessness,” he warned.
He claimed that families would continue to find themselves in homeless situations until the legal right to terminate tenancies was changed.
Prof O’Sullivan also spokes of the “hidden homeless” – where individuals or family units were in short-term insecure or inadequate accommodation. He estimated there was up to 35,000 households in that category in 2018.
Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, has been criticised for failing to deliver on his brief but pointed out that the country’s homelessness situation was in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.
Despite efforts to increase the amount of social housing and the building of general housing, he accepted that more emergency responses were required.
“More effort is needed …and the provision of extra money in the budget, for this year and next year, is a demonstration of the government’s determination when it comes to our homelessness crisis,” he added.
He pledged that the government’s regulation of the short-term rental market and greater protections for tenants would play an important role “in making better progress.”
Mr Murphy said he didn’t want to see any new families forced into emergency accommodation.
Budget 2019 has allocated an additional €30m to €146m for homelessness services while there was provision for an extra €60 million extra in capital funding for additional emergency accommodation and €1.25 billion for the delivery of new social homes.
However, top Irish soccer manager, Stephen Kenny, has called on the minister to treat the homeless crisis as a “national emergency.” The Dundalk manager made his plea as he collected the PFAI award for Manager of the Year at the weekend.
During his acceptance speech, he said: “It’s becoming a much bigger issue. I think when you talk about real heroes in society, you talk about Fr McVerry and the work that he does. He calls for the government to act like this is a national emergency.
“It used to be people with addictions, now it’s normal families who can’t afford their rent. I think it’s a massive issue and the fact that it’s not being treated as a national emergency as Fr McVerry suggested, is a big disappointment,” he stressed.
Mr Kenny lauded the work done by volunteers in organising the Homeless Street League. “There’s a lot of great volunteers and their names are never mentioned, but they volunteer and they give up their time and they help people,” he added.
Meanwhile, there seems room for little respite as the latest daft.ie quarterly report shows that rents have risen by over 11 per cent nationally in the year to September. In Dublin, the current situation is running one-third ahead in cost over the Celtic Tiger era.