In recent days Irish Times reported a “revisited” plan within Dublin City Council to accommodate homeless people on a rented cruise ship. While this current homeless and housing crisis sometimes pulls the debate towards increasingly absurd and headline-grabbing short-term responses, we must continuously return to the evidence on what actually works in preventing homelessness and what we know will effectively alleviate the plight of the 10,000 people currently living in emergency accommodation.
On 4th October, The Irish Times reported on recent discussions within Dublin City Council in relation to a plan to rent a cruise ship from a private operator to house between 100 and 150 single homeless individuals (as derived from a Freedom of Information request).
The idea was previously shelved, according to the newspaper’s report, but DCC Chief Executive Owen Keegan stated that the plan “could be revisited”. This prompted a tweet from the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy stating that “the cruise ship idea is not suitable for homeless families in need” and his Department subsequently confirmed that the Minister has “ruled out” any plan of a cruise ship to accommodate homeless people. Therefore, there appears to be limited political will to pursue such an idea (though it’s less clear whether such a response could be potentially deemed suitable for single homeless persons).
Yet even if the plan is shelved (for now, that is), it is worth stating some of the many reasons why such a proposal, and the wider discussion it provokes, is deeply alarming.
Firstly, there are clear risks associated with setting up what is essentially a ‘floating homeless hostel’. These include health and safety risks (not least a major fire hazard), potential of harm to mental and physical health of residents, and the potential challenges in providing adequate supports and facilities in such a space. Secondly, the cruise ship idea reverts to the large-scale institutionalisation and stigmatisation of those without homes, not to mention the troubling similarities with prison ships or punitive style vessels for refugees or asylum seekers seen elsewhere. Thirdly, it fails to fundamentally understand the needs of those experiencing homelessness. Time and time again, Housing First (that is, housing is provided plus tailored supports) has been demonstrated to be the most effective, humane and cost-effective way to meet the needs of even the most entrenched and long-term rough sleepers. Finally, there is also a fundamental ‘othering’ in the process of accommodating those without homes in a floating facility – removed off dry land and away from public view.
the cruise ship idea reverts to the large-scale institutionalisation and stigmatisation of those without homes, not to mention the troubling similarities with prison ships or punitive style vessels for refugees or asylum seekers seen elsewhere.
We are living in an era of what has been dubbed a “Republic of Opportunity”; a society in which everyone can achieve their potential. Yet opportunities should not come in the form of a cruise ship designed for holiday-makers and, once it is no longer fit for this purpose, be used to accommodate those who are homeless. Proceeding with such a plan would subject untold harm on those who would be unfortunate enough to live there, would institutionalise and stigmatise an already marginalised population, and would perpetuate the view that homelessness is a result of a personal failure.
Furthermore, a homeless cruise ship fundamentally jars with our existing housing-led policy, not to mention the government’s own commitment to expanding Housing. Indeed, it was only one week ago that we witnessed the launch of the country’s Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021 which aims to roll out housing solutions to long-term homeless persons and rough sleepers across this country. Yet it is the more sensationalist ideas such as cruise ships, vessels, tiny homes, “igloos”, mobile makeshift carts, and more – capture the imagination of the public and of the media. Yet these initiatives misrepresent the drivers of homelessness and are based on an underlying assumption that those experiencing homelessness somehow deserve less than housed citizens.
Yet it is the more sensationalist ideas such as cruise ships, vessels, tiny homes, “igloos”, mobile makeshift carts, and more – capture the imagination of the public and of the media.
Solutions do not lie in the different methods of providing emergency shelters – whether that be on dry land or otherwise. Rather, solutions ought to be continuously reverted back to our existing housing-led policy framework. Legislative change is required across a range of domains, and while this change requires courage and bold action, it may not be as attention-grabbing as a cruise ship.
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