“I’ve worked in homeless services for nearly 22 years now at this stage and I’ve never seen it as bad. Rough sleeping has increased, family homelessness has increased, the number of children homeless has increased, the lack of good quality accommodation, the lack of any type of accommodation… it’s hitting people very hard.”
These are the words of Ger Spillane, Focus Ireland’s Cork manager, who said the country’s homeless crisis continues to worsen. The next homeless death, he said, could easily be that of a child and he urged the Government to do more to solve the problem before that happens.
Mr Spillane’s comments come as homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry and Environment Minister Alan Kelly became embroiled in a public spat about the standard of emergency accommodation.
“It’s a cheap solution in that having six people in one room is cheaper than six rooms, but it’s not appropriate,” said Fr McVerry, speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme.
“People just do not feel safe in them. You sleep with your runners on your feet or they’ll be gone in the morning.”
In response, the minister said homeless funding has increased and the Government is doing all it can.
“There’s an awful lot of hard work going on. We have over 120 drug and alcohol-free beds, and another 20 coming on stream, with more money being put into homelessness than ever before,” he said.
“Of course, there’s going to be problems in homeless shelters, of course there is, but some of these people have very complex problems.”
Mr Kelly’s comments drew criticism from the opposition, with Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen accusing the minister of creating “spin”.
“Local authorities have waiting lists that are rising on a daily basis as people’s homes are being repossessed. Yet Minister Kelly is trying to tell the public that it is all under control and to trust him as he is dealing with the issue,” he said.
“Fr McVerry, the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, Vincent de Paul and other organisations cannot all be wrong regarding the challenges facing families over housing”
Focus Ireland said the Government should make more emergency beds available to tackle homelessness in the short term, but long-term solutions also need additional funding and increased efficiency in their implementation.
“We need two funding streams, one that will deal with the emergency crisis as it’s happening and the second one is to put in long-term prevention plans in place,” said Mr Spillane.
“We have people coming to us who have jobs and can’t get accommodation because they’re being priced out of the rental market. So one of the immediate answers is more accommodation and there doesn’t seem to be much of that coming”.
“The Government has various different schemes but they’re not attractive to landlords to get involved in. Leasing, for example, if a landlord leased his property for an organisation like ourselves he’ll get 80% of the market rent. Why would you take 80% of the market rent if you could get 100% of the market rent? There’s nothing there to incentivise people.”
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