Homeless charities warn winter crisis looms

Homeless charities have warned that Cork is facing a rough sleeping crisis this winter because of a chronic lack of housing.

A leading sociologist believes the Government’s goal of ending homelessness by 2016 is slipping away.

Dr Niamh Hourigan, a senior lecturer at University College Cork’s School of Sociology and Philosophy, was speaking at the launch of a report for Cork Simon yesterday which has identified the chronic lack of housing as the single biggest barrier to people moving out of homelessness.

“Big changes to national housing policy are urgently required,” she said.

“Not only is the Government’s goal to end sleeping rough by 2016 slipping away, but spiralling rents mean that many more [people] in Ireland may be faced with the terrible reality of life on our streets.”

Her report, ‘Where Are They Now?’ was launched against the backdrop of a 54% increase in the number of people sleeping rough in Cork in the nine months up to the end of September.

The number of people squatting in derelict buildings has soared by 63%, while the number of people ‘staying with friends’ or couch-surfing, often in unstable housing settings, jumped by almost a third.

Despite having no extra resources, Cork Simon has added extra beds to its emergency shelter to try to tackle the rising homeless crisis. However, charity director Dermot Kavanagh said the chronic shortage of housing was Cork Simon’s single biggest challenge.

“It’s why our shelter is literally overflowing at present — with the knock-on effect of more people ending up having to sleep rough on the street,” he said. “The supports are working — although they are stretched.

“What we really need now is the housing. The more people that are stuck in emergency accommodation for too long, the more people will end up having to sleep rough.”

Dr Hourigan’s report tracked for 12 months the experience of 70 homeless people who were using Cork Simon’s shelter last summer.

It found that while 38% of the group were housed successfully a year later, almost half were still stuck in the shelter, with the most at-risk of being stuck there long-term being aged between 18 and 34.

Both groups had similar rates of early school leaving, of being unskilled, of long-term unemployment, poor mental health, problem alcohol use, literacy problems and learning difficulties.

Mr Kavanagh pointed out that it can take up to six years to get a local authority home; people on rent supplement can not afford private rented housing; and there is a shortage of one-bedroom flats.

“The chronic shortage of housing and the inability to access housing, whether it’s because of difficulties with the social welfare system or landlords not accepting rent allowance, or finding housing appropriate to people’s needs, appears to be the most significant barrier,” said Mr Kavanagh.

The report was the latest in a series of events to mark Cork Simon Week.

Cork Simon’s 1,000-plus volunteers will be celebrated at a special event in the city tonight.


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