Homelessness: More deaths if action not taken

There will be more deaths of homeless people on the streets this winter, a noted academic has warned.

Dr Niamh Hourigan, head of UCC’s School of Sociology, said the public and policymakers will have to take some responsibility for the deaths she fears are inevitable if current homeless trends continue.

Little will change, she suggests, until public anger about the homeless crisis is harnessed and communicated to political leaders, as happened during the mass protests over water charges.

“My concern is that facing into an extremely cold winter, we are going to have even worse tragedies down the line and that it will take that to bring that public anger to a head,” she said.

“The lesson of water protests is that when people are really unhappy about something and they communicate that, the political will does manifest, eventually.”

Dr Hourigan was speaking at the launch of Cork Simon’s 2016 annual report yesterday which showed:

  • 53 people relied on its Anderson St shelter per night last year. It’s the highest number on record and up from 39 per night just three years ago;
  • The average stay was 54 nights — the longest average time on record;
  • 52 were classed as long-term homeless — the highest figure yet and third successive annual increase;
  • The charity provided day supports to a record 737 people last year, up from 410 in 2012.

Dr Hourigan said homeless organisations such as Cork Simon have been warning about a growing homeless crisis since 2012 and that those involved in formulating housing policy have been in office since 2011.

“We’re five years down the road and there’s been a lot of talk about homelessness, a lot of reports and committees, and a lot of promises,” she said.

“There are things that could be done that haven’t been done; small changes, rule changes, enforcement of rules around housing, as well as real significant political will to engage and move in new social housing and building. That nettle has to be grasped. I just don’t get the sense that there is a political will there to grasp that nettle.

“Where the public have a critical role to play is that we need to communicate visibly that this is something we are unhappy about.”

Cork Simon director Dermot Kavanagh said the charity has opened a winter night shelter to provide an extra 15 beds as part of a range of winter initiatives until the end of March.

He said the provision of housing continues to fall well short of what’s needed.

The charity has plans to increase its own housing stock by 100 units by 2019. It has opened a second Aftercare House and plans to develop St Joachim & Anne’s on Anglesea St.

It has also launched an Empty Homes campaign in a bid to buy or rent vacant properties.

More than 800 volunteers and almost 10,000 donors helped keep Cork Simon’s services running last year.

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