Public Meeting on Housing & Homelessness - Issues Of Our Time?

(02 Dec 2015)

                      Public Meeting on Housing and Homelessness  - Issues of our time

                                             Hosted by Senator Katherine Zappone

                                                           Venue:  Plaza Hotel

                                            Date and time: Wed 2nd Dec 7pm (sharp)


Statement by Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy, Founder, Focus Ireland

Christmas is a hard time of year for everyone who has lost loved ones.  This week is the first anniversary of Jonathan Corrie’s death on the street in front of the Dail, and there is much renewed debate on homelessness and what has changed since.  At this time it is important for all to remember his family and respect their privacy and grief.

After Jonathan’s tragic death last year there was public outcry and Minister Kelly brought everyone together to ensure nobody had to sleep rough due to lack of a bed. We were assured homelessness was top of the Government agenda. However, in the past year the homeless crisis has deepened. 

The number of families and children homeless has doubled to a September total of almost 800 families and over 1,500 children.  The number of single people has also risen.  There are now over 100 people sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin each night and rough sleeping is also rising in Cork, Limerick and Galway.  Focus Ireland supported over 11,500 customers in 2014 an increase of 15% from the 10,000 we supported in 2013.

When most people think of homelessness they think of a man in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway.  This is the most visible and tragic manifestation of homelessness. People in this situation usually have complex needs such as mental health or addiction. Many grew up in State Care and left at 18 without any support. People in these situations often need intensive supports.  Offering them a bed for one night and out on the street in the morning to spend the day looking for a bed for the next night is simply not good enough.

The most significant change in the face of homelessness in recent years has been the number of families losing their homes and becoming homeless.  An average of 70 to 80 families lose their homes every month in Dublin alone and the key reason is they can’t afford the rent increases that landlords are seeking. Minister Kelly promised rent certainly but reneged on his promise.  The two year rent freeze which he is introducing may slow the rent spiral, but thousands of families are still burdened with the massive rent rises of the last two years. If rent supplement is not increased to reflect the 30% rises that have already hit them, they will continue to lose their homes.

Increasing Rent Supplement to realistic levels is entirely within the Governments power. If it does not act, another 100 or more families will face homelessness this Christmas.

Minister Kelly has promised to increase the supply of social housing. These are promises but where is the action? It is now clear that the government will fall 1,000 units short of this year’s social housing target.

What is most shocking is the recent announcement that NAMA, an arm of the state, which has the land and the capacity to deliver up to 20,000 new houses is going to build those homes for the private market at this time when there is a desperate need for good quality social housing and many private developers are sitting on zoned land.

There has been consensus for more than a year that the homeless crisis cannot be tackled without the delivery of homes. If the Government is genuinely serious it should direct NAMA to deliver its 20,000 homes as social housing – and finally deliver its promised ‘social dividend’.

If we are serious about providing a home for all our people then a coherent national housing policy is needed which will address the priorities, which include:

  • A commitment to introduce ‘rent certainty’ (not just a rent freeze for 2 years), for the 20% of people living in private rented accommodation must be honoured.
  • An increase in the rent supplement in keeping with increases in market prices.
  • Provide proper and well-regulated emergency accommodation, not just a bed for the night, for people when they need it.
  • Speed up the delivery of social housing, plans already announced are taking too long and are having little impact on the immediate crisis.
  • Recognise that having a home is a basic human right in our constitution, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention.

I am making a direct appeal to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to knock heads together including Nama, developers, Local Authorities etc as well as his Ministers and top civil servants, set up an emergency task force to replace rhetoric with real actions. By showing leadership now we can offer some hope to those facing desperation.



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