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Having attended the recent forum on housing and homelessness in the Custom House on March 31, and having istened to the narrow-focused discussion after the presentations, I thought ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’.
The new Oireachtas Committee for Housing and Homelessness did not encourage me greatly. The committee is to sit for nine weeks, at the end of which it will produce a report for government. It will sit two days a week, and will focus on ten strands. These will be the Department for the Environment and local authorities; homelessness; social housing; private housing; the private rented sector; legal issues; Nama; social inclusion, including Traveller accommodation; the experience of people impacted by the crises; and how to pay for solutions.
The lack of suitable housing for the many families whose only issue is a place to live is appalling. This will not be solved overnight and must be addressed urgently. However, we should not forget about the many people who will become homeless, and this could well happen in the current climate. They have a myriad of problems, apart from lack of accommodation, including mental-health issues, low self-esteem, and addiction (to cope with the pain of living). They are all outsiders.
These issues are common to the many people throughout the developed world who end up sleeping in doorways and under bushes. Some make headlines when they die, others are never heard about.
People working at the coalface with the homeless, and the families whose loved-ones are homeless, are daily challenged in their efforts to provide a listening ear, care, compassion and understanding. It is vital that attempts are made to address these issues.
Over our 40 years of working with the homeless, we have called consistently for people in politics to get together, while leaving aside their allegiances, and particularly for government agencies, and the departments of the environment, health, social protection, and education to work together.
The recent decision to transfer some of the budget for developments in mental health to other parts of the health service doesn’t inspire hope. Sadly, I suspect this new report may well end up like ‘Vision for Change’, a report of years ago, which planned psychiatric services. However, hope springs eternal.
Director of Services
Alice Leahy Trust
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