'Deaths of despair': Fr Peter McVerry says deaths of homeless people a public health crisis

'Deaths of despair': Fr Peter McVerry says deaths of homeless people a public health crisis
Fr Peter McVerry said that we are dealing with a public health crisis that will only escalate when tenancy protections have been removed.Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has said the recent surge in the number of deaths of people who were homeless or in emergency is a public health crisis.

Ten people died in the month of July - almost a third of the number who died in all of 2019.

Fr McVerry said that it is a cause of great concern and fears "we may be witnessing a tipping-point for people who are homeless as the types of deaths we are seeing from suicide and overdoses, are typically deaths of despair.

"Despair can quickly set in when hope fades and people see no hope to an end to their time in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough."

He said that we are dealing with a public health crisis that will only escalate when tenancy protections have been removed.

"The pandemic proved we have the capacity to respond with urgency, seriousness, and generosity when needed.

"The housing and homelessness crisis is not separate from the effort to defeat Covid-19. The human cost of homelessness in Ireland is now also a public health threat."

Fr McVerry said that action must be taken immediately.

"To allow the scale and severity of homelessness in Ireland to continue for five years more was always unconscionable, but to allow it to grow over the next five months is untenable."

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has recommended the Minister for Housing designate homelessness as a public health crisis and respond accordingly.

Keith Adams, Social Policy Advocate at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice says: “The 31 deaths reported so far in 2020 is just short of last year’s total.

"The continuation of existing homeless policy, as these conditions of inadequate shelter and treatment remain unaddressed, can no longer be understood as just ineffective.

"These policies are now best described as lethal.”

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