Homelessness is a tale of empty promises and vacant houses

It was December 2014 and, with 331 families in temporary accommodation, an Emergency Homeless Summit was called, writes Elaine Loughlin.

Three housing ministers later — countless press releases, broken promises, policy launches, incentives and endless reviews — and the homeless crisis continues to break new records with growing numbers of children, mothers and fathers stuck in hotels and B&Bs each night.

By June of this year, Focus Ireland put the number of families without a home and living in emergency accommodation at 1,365.

In 2014, when then housing minister Alan Kelly gathered charities, housing bodies, Government departments, and State agencies together for his homeless summit, there were strong words and even stronger commitments.

The Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness had been published the previous May and pledged to bring an end to involuntary long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. A purely laughable promise now.

The problem is that not only are we right in the middle of an appalling homelessness emergency, we are also faced with a rental crisis coupled with spiralling house prices.

Securing a place to rent is now a battle for young professionals, who then have little left to save for a mortgage deposit when their hefty rent is taken out each month. Families looking to get on the property ladder or up it face bidding wars, with house prices rising more in the first six months of 2017 than in the whole of last year.

Simply put, absolutely every aspect of Ireland’s property market is compromised. However, renters and buyers are the lucky ones. They haven’t had to listen to successive ministers make promise after promise to end the homelessness issue once and for all, only to be let down.

It’s easy to see how a parent, trying to raise their family in a hotel room, without a fridge, a cooker, a washing machine, or play area, would lose hope. Even easier when the homeless figures continue to only go in one direction — sky high.

Homelessness is a tale of empty promises and vacant houses

While Mr Kelly’s promise to end homeless by 2016 now seems on par with pledging to end world hunger in just two years, the then minister went on to make a few other unachievable commitments before bowing out.

As 2015 neared its close, Mr Kelly promised a Christmas gift that, in the end, never fully materialised.

Announcing a new plan to place homeless families in rapid-build or modular homes, Mr Kelly said the first phase these would be finished in time for Santa.

The media was invited to Poppintree in Dublin for a gawk around a sample prefab home which had been kitted out with furniture and fittings. Under the proposals, 500 modular homes would have been built by the end of 2016. A further 800 would come on stream this year and 1,500 more in 2018.

However, the homes were not complete for Christmas and, to date, just 22 modular homes have been built.

While some of the measures announced by Mr Kelly and Mr Coveney seemed achievable at the time, it was obvious that others were pie in the sky plans from the very start.

We still await any firm initiatives from current minister Eoghan Murphy as he continues to review what his predecessors promised.

Take, for example, the most likely well-meant promise made by Mr Coveney in March.

Brave and probably foolish in equal measure, he stated that no family would be living in a hotel or B&B by the end of July.

Transitional family hubs — a slightly less temporary solution to the problem of temporary accommodation — were announced and would provide people with more facilities than hotels but aren’t quite a place to call home, with communal facilities for eating and
cooking.

To be located in every-thing from a former Magdalene Laundry building to a property previously used as a probation office, the family hub concept has been heavily criticised for
normalising homelessness and simply offering another stop-gap solution.

However, even including the opening of the homeless hubs, by the time the school and Dáil holidays came around, many families still languished in B&Bs and hotels.

Luckily for him, though, Mr Coveney was out of the department and in the salubrious confines of Iveagh House, once the city retreat of the Guinness Family and now home of the Department of Foreign Affairs, by the July deadline.

It was up to the current minister, Mr Murphy, to announce that the man before him had not only lost the Fine Gael leadership race but had failed homeless families. Another tall task is the challenge of providing 47,000 social housing units by 2021, a deadline the Government has set itself.

Eoghan Murphy
Eoghan Murphy

This €5.3bn plan seems particularity ambitious considering just 652 social housing units were built last year. However, if successive housing ministers have one common trait, it seems to be the love of an insurmountable challenge. Luckily, they will be able to rely on the
private sector through Housing Assistance Payments, a measure which Mr Kelly did manage to introduce, to bridge some of the social housing gap.

Of the €935m pumped into providing 19,000 social housing supports last year — two thirds of these were though Housing Assistance Payments.

The Government is still committed to building 26,000 homes, and cranking State construction up to that level could become yet another broken promise. More families let down and left without a secure future.

More on this topic

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