Homelessness crisis - We need less talk and more action

The Taoiseach was talking over the weekend about the Government keeping its "compass point fixed on 2016", and then letting the people give their verdict at the polls.

The appointment of Joan Burton as tánaiste following her election as leader of the Labour Party would seem to be an appropriate time to take stock of the Coalition’s position and where it is actually heading.

The Government promised to eliminate people having to sleep rough by 2016. There will probably always be people who will choose to sleep rough, and that, ultimately, is part of individual freedom. Those people probably do need help, but they are in a very different category from the ‘new poor’, who lost good jobs and are being forced to live on the streets.

The Peter McVerry Trust, which has provided a tremendous help for homeless people, noted that homelessness figures are up over eight-fold since the recession began. The charity supported 3,586 people last year, compared with 383 people six years ago. These figures make a mockery of the Government’s handling of the homeless issue. Fr McVerry warns that the Government cannot possibly eradicate the problem by 2016 under its current funding.

Br Kevin Crowley was interviewed on RTÉ yesterday amid the bustle of more than 700 people being provided with breakfast at the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin. He provided a raw insight into the plight of the new poor: One morning, a woman drove up to the centre to get breakfast for her children. If the woman could afford to drive a car, Br Crowley thought, she could afford breakfast. She explained that the car had become their home — she and her children had been forced out of their home. Thereafter, as a policy, he has never asked people why they are looking for help.

Some of the new poor may live in nice accommodation, but they are in danger of losing it, because, in their new circumstances, they cannot really afford it. They and their children are often going without food in order to pay for their accommodation.

Br Crowley rightly questioned the amount of money being spent on survey after survey about homeless problems, when nothing is then done about the findings. The Capuchin Day Centre provided around €2.3m worth of direct help last year, of which the Government gave just €450,000. The rest was subscribed in donations, all of which went towards helping the poor.

In recent months, there have been appalling instances of people being paid exorbitant fees for fundraising for charities. The Capuchins have a policy of not paying for fundraising, so people can be confident that all of the money donated goes to helping the people directly.

In its pre-budget submission, St Vincent de Paul warns that social welfare expenditure should be increased by at least 3.25% next year as part of a series of 30 necessary measures to help the most vulnerable. This poses a real challenge for the Government.

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