Homelessness - State failing charities and the needy

It is an indictment of our Government, our public services, and all of us in this society too, that four organisations, frustrated by how difficult it is to make progress through official channels, have had to come together to rent private accommodation to provide shelter for the growing number people forced to live — and occasionally die — on our streets.

Despite recent impositions and four years of economic stagnation, this is still a rich country. #

We can, despite our many challenges and shrill protests, look after the small but growing number of people who cannot put a roof over their heads or find a warm, dry bed to sleep in.

Surely, as we almost trample each other in the rush to mark another occasion when there was no room at the inn, we can do more to look after those who cannot provide social services with even an address to confirm that they exist, to confirm that they are members of this society and entitled to its support and some portion of the security it can offer?

How can it be that four respected charities used to dealing with official Ireland feel so badly let down that they have washed their hands of Government, the one that represents us all, in their efforts to ensure that homeless people might be taken off the streets?

It is hard to accept that the stasis that united Cork Simon, Focus Ireland, the St Vincent de Paul Society, and Threshold, to establish the Cork Rentals and Housing Support Partnership is a resources issue. Even at this low ebb, we have the wherewithal to put a roof over the heads of the few hundred, maybe a thousand people, living rough. There are certainly enough empty houses and apartments available to resolve this crisis.

Why has this issue not generated the great outrage that the relatively modest budget welfare cuts provoked? Why are Government backbenchers not being goaded by the opposition over this? Why are some of them not jumping ship over this potentially life-or-death tragedy? The answer is obvious and even more shaming for that.

The four organisations have considerable integrity so their decision must stand for something or we will be back at this sorry point next winter.

There are two offices that should interest themselves in this affair. One is the ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, and the other is that of Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure and reform minister.

Ms O’Reilly should investigate to pinpoint the failure that provoked the go-it-alone decision. Her findings would be revealing, especially as it is more than likely that the four organisations would open their files to her.

Mr Howlin is obliged, under his reform mandate, to investigate the matter. Our public services have not provided the kind of protection any decent society would wish to see delivered in its name. As he begins talks to renew the Croke Park deal protecting those who so frustrated the charities, he must find out what has gone so wrong and confront it. He may even, though it is unlikely, discover that the charities had unreasonable expectations.

It would be interesting too, if they were to go ahead, to compare the findings of the two inquiries. The prospect of any investigation, or action on their findings, is so remote, though, that our homeless citizens will have to depend on charity for shelter, warmth and even survival. And that shames us all.


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