When will homeless numbers go down?

(30 Mar 2018)

Irish Times - Friday 30th March 

When will homeless numbers go down?

Sir, – With the publication of figures showing that the number of people who are homeless has yet again increased (Home News, March 28th and 29th), we have lost all confidence in either the ability or commitment of the Government to solve the housing and homelessness crisis currently being experienced by this country.

Despite the promises to address homelessness made by the Government in its Action Plan, Rebuilding Ireland, the numbers living in hostels, hotels, B&Bs and Family Hubs have continued to rise over the 20 months since that Plan was published with such fanfare in July 2016.

The February figures show record levels of homelessness, with 9,807 individuals, including 3,755 children, now homeless. Indeed, since the launch of Rebuilding Ireland, the total number of people living in emergency accommodation has risen by over 3,300, with the number of children increasing by over 1,400.

When the Taoiseach was asked just before Christmas when could we see the number of people in homelessness going down, he replied that he was unable to say when this might happen.

We are deeply concerned by the Government’s continued emphasis on the delivery of Family Hubs to tackle the human crisis that is family homelessness. While the Government admits that hubs are only a “first response”, it still shows little if any sense of urgency about delivering a second, substantive, response that is adequate to the crisis we are facing.

Families experiencing homelessness need homes, not more hubs. But the Government is neither delivering adequate numbers of new homes nor sufficiently protecting families in their existing homes. Focus Ireland research shows that even a short period of homelessness often has a very negative impact on families and their children. With one-third of the families in emergency accommodation now being in this situation for more than 12 months, the Government needs to urgently rethink its approach.

A deeply flawed action plan and a stack of press statements aimed primarily at presenting a positive picture of developments are no substitute for the coherent, joined-up strategy which is required to address this issue.

Such a strategy must include a far more ambitious drive to provide real social housing, rather than relying on the subsidisation of rents in the private rental sector; the bringing back into use of the thousands of empty houses and flats that blight every city and town, using compulsory purchase orders if necessary; making it illegal to evict people into homelessness, except in exceptional circumstances; the imposition of a punitive tax on land that is being hoarded, and strengthening the rights of tenants.

Housing is a fundamental human right. The inability or unwillingness to assure this basic right to tens of thousands of people in Ireland today is an indictment of our society. The current situation constitutes an emergency that requires far more radical action than we have seen so far.

Homelessness in Ireland today is not inevitable and nor should it be considered normal. It can be eliminated if the political will is there. – Yours, etc,


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