Housing plan is commendable but campaigners are reserving their applause for now

Ending homelessness is not achieved easily or quickly — that was the message from the Government as it announced an action plan to address the crisis.

Social housing, rapid-building, supports for drug addiction, and cash to use vacant homes were among details explained at Government Buildings.

Among those at the launch were campaigners for the homeless on the front line, including Fr Peter McVerry, who knows better than most what will and won’t work.

This plan is more of an update on promises made last July. At the centre of it is a commitment by Housing Minister Simon Coveney to end the use of emergency accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs, for the homeless by the middle of next year.

He is hanging his political career on the plan. And he was not lacking detail on the numbers of housing units and initiatives planned to tackle homelessness.

But the key to success will be when the numbers sleeping rough, the families living in B&Bs, and those people with no home start to decrease.

Fr McVerry put it aptly yesterday to Mr Coveney: “It is the most detailed plan on housing and homelessness that we have ever seen and that’s commendable, but as you said yourself, until we see the monthly figures of homelessness reducing then I reserve my applause.”

Fr Peter McVerry
Fr Peter McVerry

The campaigner noted that figures for homelessness keep rising. Indeed, figures last week show that up to 2,000 children are now homeless in Dublin.

The plan says there are 300 rapid-build homes under construction — 1,500 of these will be built by 2018.

Up to 1,350 people have exited homelessness so far this year. Furthermore, up to 1,600 vacant housing units will be made available for families. A new scheme to pay for bus fares for homeless families will also be launched soon.

The reality, though, as Mr Coveney said, is that despite the progress, reducing the actual numbers and making a big difference is unlikely to happen anytime soon. In fact, the minister admitted that the Government is indeed “running to stand still”.

Simon Coveneny
Simon Coveneny

Already, estimates for emergency beds for the approaching winter have been increased by an extra 230. So, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Fr McVerry also had some interesting observations: those without a home are nervous about taking up private rented accommodation in case they fall off the social housing list. Furthermore, some emergency housing shelters are dorms where people trying to escape drug addiction are sleeping next to drug dealers. Some young people are safer on the streets, said Fr McVerry.

This is the complexity of the problem.

The last Fine Gael government promised to end it. Will this one?

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