Children are regularly treated as “passive spectators” in the debate on adequate housing in Ireland, a conference on homeless children in Galway heard yesterday.
Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon warned of the effects emergency accommodation has on children’s rights.
He referred to part of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child where it describes how a child is deeply affected by being housed in emergency accommodation.
“Childhood is for a limited period of time and cannot be reclaimed if a child has a sub-optimal experience due to inadequate housing,” said Dr Shannon.
The measure of democracy, he said, was how the needs of the most vulnerable are considered and met.
“Yet, all too often, children are treated as passive spectators in the debate on adequate housing in Ireland. A child’s human rights are seriously affected where a child is placed in emergency accommodation.”
Dr Shannon said it was “salutary” that one in four of the population in Ireland was under 18 years of age.
“They are our greatest national resource,” he said.
However, access to housing was crucial, and they must get right for every family and every child. “We need to imagine a new republic based on equality for all children,” he said.
Dr Shannon was speaking at the launch of Cope Galway’s 2016 report which recorded a 27% increase in families seeking help because of homelessness or the risk of homelessness.
The report also reveals the number of children experiencing homelessness in Galway increased by almost 40%, up from 369 in 2015 to 512 last year.
COPE Galway also supported a further 158 children of women who sought the assistance of its domestic violence services, including refuge, last year.
COPE Galway chief executive, Jacqui Horan said the housing crisis was particularly acute in Galway City and while B & Bs and hotels played a significant role in accommodating families they were not the answer.
Ms Horan appealed to people with flats, apartments or houses that were vacant to make them available to rent to families through COPE Galway.
“We, in Galway, can create a better living environment for our most vulnerable children,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Simon Communities said its 10th anniversary of Simon Week was an occasion marked by sadness, not celebration, claiming an end to homelessness and housing insecurity had moved out of sight.
National spokesperson for the Simon Communities, Niamh Randall, said they never thought when launching their first Simon Week in 2008 that over 8,000 people would now be trapped in emergency accommodation.
During Simon Week, people will be urged to sign the charity’s petition — ‘No One Left Behind’ — demanding the Government builds more social and affordable housing.
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