Ireland can eradicate homelessness by historic 1916 anniversary and here’s how

As Ireland’s homelessness crisis continues, some groups are starting to look outside of Ireland for possible solutions, writes Ruairi McKiernan

Ireland can eradicate homelessness by historic 1916 anniversary and here’s how

One such idea being investigated is the White House backed '100,000 Homes Campaign' which is an ambitious community-led movement that has led to permanent housing for over 105,000 chronically homeless Americans in under four years.

The campaign is different in that it seeks to end a costly reliance on things like hotels, B&Bs and shelters for the homeless. Instead it advocates that the homeless should be given housing and supports without delay, something supporters say ends up saving the state millions in the long term.

The 100,00 Homes Campaign, a winner of the 2013 World Habitat Award, is the brainchild of the pioneering New York based non-profit organisation, Community Solutions.

It is being explored by Ashoka Ireland, who are keen to see proven social solutions replicated across the globe through their successful 'Change Nation' programme.

“What we like about the 100,000 Homes Campaign is that is is ambitious, it believes homelessness can and should be ended, and it mobilises communities through integrated people powered campaigning in order to achieve this. It sets monthly targets, holds people to account, and aims to make better use of existing resources.” says Serena Mizzoni, Director of Ashoka Ireland.

“We're still talking to people and seeing how it might work here in Ireland. Obviously the context is different here, but there are things we can learn from the U.S and elsewhere. This shouldn't be that complicated in a small country like ours. It's clear we need to move beyond managing homelessness and focus on preventing it.

"The government has promised an end to homelessness by 2016 but it must take radical and urgent action if this target is to be achieved. It's just not a case of more money. Things like rent controls, rental allowance, and social housing must all be explored.

"Ultimately it takes vision, leadership, and coordinated action from people throughout Ireland. Wouldn't this be a fitting way of commemorating 2016? Imagine the headlines - 'Ireland eradicates homelessness on the eve of symbolic anniversary.” she added.

The 100,000 Homes Campaign in the U.S supports 186 individual communities to work together to end homelessness in a coordinated national effort. Each community signs up for free and reports their housing placements each month towards meeting an ambitious, measurable and time-bound goal.

Community Solutions, which maintains a small back-end support staff, provide technical support, training, and a virtual campaigning infrastructure to help those communities connect and communicate across the country while sharing their best learning and ideas.

Campaign leaders attribute their success to a few key ingredients. These include learning individual homeless people's "name and need" by mobilising volunteers to go very early in the morning to check on them, and establishing a "vulnerability index" so they can prioritise certain homeless people.

They also point to the importance of bringing housing advocates and agency representatives together to streamline the placement processes, share ideas and cut through red tape.

Speaking of what lessons have been learned from their campaigning efforts over the past four years, Community Solutions founder Rosanne Haggerty says the experience of the 100,000 Homes Campaign is worth sharing, and that this has led to groups in Canada and beyond beginning to create their own versions of the initiative.

“When we started out with our ambitious goal of 100,000 homes some people said it couldn't be done. We've helped prove that community-led solutions work, and that often what is needed is a mass mobilisation effort with ambitious goals, collaboration, and transparent reporting.

Our campaign has helped prove that an immediate connection to housing with basic supportive services can solve homelessness for almost everyone. We are now moving on and launching a new campaign called Zero 2016 as we believe homelessness can and should be ended by 2016” she said.

“Our campaigning has demonstrated that communities can typically make much better use of existing social resources than they realise. Without significant new money, participating communities improve the number of people they were housing each month by 300% over the course of the campaign.

"They do this by using data to target government housing money more efficiently to the populations likely to benefit most from them and by pulling disparate local groups together as part of a single, streamlined housing system.”

“Just as important, which will interest voters and politicians alike, our work shows that housing homeless people significantly reduces taxpayer costs. Because homeless people spend so much time in hospitals, jails and shelters, they often cost taxpayers more on the street than they do in publicly sponsored housing. A formal estimate based on a wealth of available research suggests that our campaign alone is saving US taxpayers $1.3 billion per year.” she added.

“We have already begun discussions with a number of Irish agencies and groups, including Ashoka Ireland, and would love launch a campaign-style effort to end homelessness in Ireland. We are eager to help if people feel we might have a role to play.”

Find out more about the initiative at 100khomes.org

 Ruairí McKiernan is a social campaigner and member of the Council of State. Find him on twitter @ruairimckiernan

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