Homelessness crisis now an ‘emergency’

Focus Ireland slams government policy as user rate rose from 8,000 in 2012 to 11,500 last year

Homelessness is set to reach record levels, with one charity warning it helped as many people in the first six months of this year as in all of 2012.

More than 11,500 people who were homeless or at imminent risk of losing their homes turned to Focus Ireland last year, compared to 10,000 in 2013 and 8,000 in 2012.

But the charity said yesterday it had already reached the 8,000 mark by June this year and the problem was steadily worsening.

 

In 2012, it warned of a looming crisis when it was seeing eight families a month left homeless but that figure jumped to 20 per month in 2013, to 40 last year and was now 70 this year.

The charity’s president and founder, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, said: “Homelessness has now deepened from a crisis situation to a national emergency.”

More than 600 families are currently living in emergency accommodation, usually hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts, and Sr Stan said many were spending nine months or more in such settings.

“You’re talking about a huge number of people and a huge number of children. It is shameful really. You see parents distressed, children traumatised, people totally harassed and their whole sense of self-esteem being reduced on a daily basis. It is just awful.”

Focus Ireland is calling for an immediate freeze on rents, an increase in rent supplement and greater tax reliefs for landlords to encourage them to put properties on the rental market.

It also backs the short-term use of quick-build modular housing such as that proposed by the four Dublin local authorities, and says the Government must build more social housing.

“Government policies are causing people to be homeless. On one hand, they’re talking about finding housing to house them and on the other hand by not increasing the rent supplement they’re driving people into homelessness,” Sr Stan said.

“If people don’t get the rent supplement, they’re costing the Government an awful lot more by putting them in rooms in hotels, so it is crazy what the Government is doing. It doesn’t make sense and not only does it not make sense but it is awful for the families.”

She said she could accept modular housing — high-spec multi-room prefabs designed for habitation — but only as a temporary response.

“The danger that we would see is that the short-term becomes long-term,” she said. “The problem is that Governments are in for the short-term, ministers change. This happens all the time. We need a long-term plan that will be delivered.”

Pressures in the private rental market are driven partly by the huge shortage of social housing.

Figures released under Freedom of Information recently show 130,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists, some 40,000 more than officially acknowledged by Government.

Under the Government’s social housing strategy published last November, 18,000 units of social housing are promised by the end of 2017 and a further 17,000 by the end of 2020.

Focus Ireland chief executive Ashley Balbirnie said the €1.5 billion plan was welcome but added: “Now we need to see bricks and mortar being delivered from that strategy.”

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