St Vincent de Paul warn that housing crisis is creating "new poor"

The dangers of ignoring the “new poor” have been highlighted by the Society of the St Vincent de Paul which has warned that the current homelessness crisis is being accompanied by a “hidden” crisis of those on the brink of losing their lodgings.

St Vincent de Paul warn that housing crisis is creating "new poor"

The charity organisation has launched its Christmas fundraising drive: the first of 1,000 hampers to households in the Cork City and suburbs region were dispatched yesterday, with the last to be issued on December 21.

This comes towards the end of what the charity said was a busy year, with the number of calls and contacts to its South West regional office as high as in 2014, and still way above the levels of just a few years ago.

SVP Regional Administrator for the South West area, Gerry Garvey said there had been 76,000 occasions over the past year when help was given to people in the region, from a hamper to a school uniform.

He said that in addition to “traditional clients”, SVP has seen a “frightening element” develop in Irish society — “the new poor”.

“There is a significant number of people who would be very slow to ask for help or seek assistance because they think it’s shameful, but they can’t pay their rent or they are in mortgage arrears,” he said.

“They would have donated to charities themselves in the past.”

There have been instances of a car in the driveway of the home which is not taxed or insured and with no heat on inside or food in the presses. Gerry outlines how one staff member took a call in recent weeks from a man who obviously felt the need to call, but was so shy about it he could barely leave his name.

It turned out the man had struggled for years to sustain his business, which had finally folded. “He couldn’t pay his mortgage, but his biggest fear was how he was going to tell his wife and son that he couldn’t pay college fees,” Gerry says. “He was on the brink of suicide.” The SVP was able to provide a food hamper; fill his oil tank; and organise a grant for tuition fees.

The range of clients dealt with by the charity has expanded in recent years, so they have helped the family who were renting a three-bed house for more than 10 years but which they had to vacate when the landlady’s daughter needed it.

Their next lodgings were more expensive, while rent supplement was cut, meaning a gap between the two figures which they felt was “unmanageable” without SVP assistance.

Others have to borrow from family, friends or moneylenders to keep a roof over their heads, while others face the anxious search for new homes in a spiralling rental market.

Gerry does not believe that the general improvement in the economy will improve life for everyone.

“Everyone is talking about homelessness but I think real crisis is those at risk of homelessness,” he said, referring to the “thousands and thousands” of families requiring weekly assistance. “It’s like sandbags for flooding — we are only staving it off,” he says.

Gerry agrees with the views of another charity campaigner, Fr Peter McVerry, that millions of euro should be ploughed into measures to alleviate the homelessness crisis before it worsens, including lifting the level of rent supplement, even on a temporary basis

As demands on the charity sector has increased, so has the need to boost fundraising. Gerry says the SVP cash reserves have been “well and truly shattered” in recent years, and that the generosity of people who donate is key — not just for the Christmas period, but to build up reserves for the “really tough” months of January and February.

Gerry says all charities have had to cut back “substantially” because of higher demand and funding cuts, hence the annual SVP appeal and, in Cork city and county, the annual car draw.

“You have the State passing the buck to the charity,” he argues. “We have to shake buckets and raise money.”

Those bucket collectors have already been out in force and will continue to be right up to Christmas itself.

Meanwhile, the hampers will be winging their way to homes that need them.

As Gerry puts it: “This is make-or-break stuff.”

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