Veteran homelessness campaigner says services are worse than 30 years ago

The slum conditions existing at the time of the 1913 Lockout continue today in “appalling” rented accommodation, Fr Peter McVerry has said.

The homelessness campaigner said emergency services are worse now than when he started working in the area over 30 years ago.

Fr McVerry said that, on the centenary of the labour uprising:

* Vulnerable people are living in tiny, damp, rat-infested and sometimes windowless rooms in the private rented sector, paid for by the State;

* Young homeless adults needing a bed have to use dormitory-style hostels where intimidation, bullying, theft, and drug use are rife;

* A homeless woman with a 6-year-old child is told she can have 2 sleeping bags when she rings for emergency shelter.

He said the Government’s national strategy to end long-term homeless by 2016 was “a dream with no concrete reality”, given that it had “abdicated” the responsibility to implement that goal to the private rented sector.

Speaking at the 2012 annual report of the Peter McVerry Trust, he said: “We are celebrating the 1913 Lockout, we are marking the slum conditions that existed in the tenement buildings in Ireland then. Those slum conditions continue now within the private rented sector. I’ve seen appalling accommodation, but it is invisible, behind a facade of a lovely house. I’ve seen tiny, sometimes windowless rooms, rat-infested, damp accommodation, which is illegal, but the State is paying for with the rent allowance.”

He said while there have been some developments, the situation had worsened in his experience.

“After 30 years, I am more frustrated than ever. The services are in more disarray than ever.” He said emergency services were a “disaster” and he often advised young homeless people against using the dormitory-style hostels and to sleep rough instead. “Some young people find it very unsafe, an intimidating environment to be in, where there is bullying and where grown men are actively using drugs. I cannot in good conscience advise them to seek a bed in such a place.”

He said the focus of State agencies was to provide a bed: “There is no discussion about the quality of that bed. They give a bed but destroy the dignity of the person.

“I would not want to sleep in a dormitory full of drug users. Drug users need accommodation too, I’m not criticising that, but I am criticising a policy where everyone is dumped into the same emergency accommodation.” He said addicts were typically taking a “cocktail” of substances, including drugs that can make them “very aggressive and violent”.

Provisions for those under 18 were good, he said, but that once someone reached adulthood they were “thrown to the wolves”.

He said homeless women were very badly looked after. He recently had a case where a woman with a 6-year-old child who was seeking accommodation was offered two sleeping bags.

* For more see: www.pmvtrust.ie

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