Focus Ireland said that the new record of over 10,000 people homeless must be a line in the sand in the battle to end the ever deepening crisis.
The charity has called for a period of honest reflection by the Government – and all parties concerned – to agree how we can deliver more effective policies.
Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan said “ Despite all the good work being done, it is clear that current Government policy is failing to tackle the scale of the crisis. Reaching this appalling threshold of 10,000 people homeless must be a line in the sand that helps bring some honest reflection by the Government to help deliver changes that will end this crisis.”
The figures show a rise of 277 people in one month alone from 9,987 in Jan to 10,264 in Jan 2019. The Department of the Environment figures also show that 3,784 of the number homeless are children (in 1,707 families) For the last few months the Government has been accused of repeatedly redefined ‘homelessness’ in order to avoid reaching the 10,000 figure. Focus Ireland said this Government spin has been a distraction and the spotlight must now return to what needs to be done to fix the problem.
Focus Ireland said that an honest reflection of the current situation must start from a recognition that the major response to homelessness to date has been to build more homeless emergency accommodation rather than building more homes. Since the homeless crisis began, Dublin has acquired thousands of extra emergency homeless beds but has fewer social houses. The delivery of social housing nationwide is also failing to meet the great demand.
The charity stressed that delivering more social housing would also help people struggling to find somewhere to live in the rental market as it would directly result in freeing up many units in the private rented market that are currently used for HAP tenancies. To deliver this target Government and local authorities must drive far more ambitious social housing targets and build new viable communities on the scale required to address housing need.
Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan said: “Focus Ireland works very hard with the Government and local authorities nationwide to prevent homelessness and also to help families and individuals who are homeless to secure a home. The crisis would clearly be much worse without this great work. However, we do not shy away from repeatedly outlining our very great concern that the Government’s primary response to the crisis of family homelessness has been to build more ‘Hubs’ and other emergency accommodation. Recent reports show that local authorities expect to have to provide hundred more emergency beds in the next few years. If anything is a signal of failure that must be. More emergency beds is no more of a solution to homelessness than more trollies would be a solution to the health crisis.”
“This crisis is also having a serious impact on people right across society as there’s been a shocking increase in youth homelessness in recent years along with a rise in the number of men and women who are homeless. The lack of ambition and urgency by the Government in terms of really driving forward an extensive social housing building programme has caused a shocking rise in homelessness and rents to rise making it difficult for so many in society to find a place to call home. The comments by the EU Commission clearly outline a similar view to that of Focus Ireland on this matter. We aim for our comments to be constructive criticism that can help bring a shift in policy.”
He added: “The second area of reflection should be the failure, despite much good work, to stem the constant rising flow of people losing their homes and becoming homeless. For over two years Focus Ireland has been providing evidence that landlords evicting to sell is the largest single cause of family homelessness. The Government has rejected the solution we propose (of giving greater protections to tenants) but has failed to come up with any proposal of its own to tackle a problem which results in around 18 families a week becoming homeless.”
Focus Ireland helped over 400 families to secure a home last year – in partnership with the State – and to move on from homelessness. However, the latest figures show that the crisis is deepening despite this good work by state agencies and NGO’s as the Government has not taken enough action to tackle the deeper issues which are driving more people into homelessness. Focus Ireland added that its views were echoed in comments by the European Commission last month. In its ‘Country Specific Report’ on Ireland the Commission strongly criticised the Irish Government’s housing policy, suggesting insufficient residential construction, rising rents and a lack of affordable and social housing were driving increased rates of homelessness in Dublin and around the country. In its latest assessment of country-specific challenges across Europe, the EU’s executive arm said the shortage of housing had caused a sharp 23% rise in rents since 2015, which it said was the highest in the EU. Only earlier this week the United Nations also condemned Irish Government policy for allowing multinational vulture funds to buy up vast swathes of properties and then rent them out at sky-high costs.
Meanwhile, Focus Ireland said that its own figures show that 102 families became newly homeless in Dublin in February compared to 92 families in January. Focus Ireland said that each year there is normally a seasonal drop in the number of people who are homeless in December and then a spike in the numbers in the January or February figures. This is due to a number of reasons such as extended family taking in people over Christmas but the situation is not sustainable and the families return to homeless accommodation after a short period.
Focus Ireland also noted that the latest Government figures do not include all those families who have been assessed as homeless by local authorities and are receiving homeless support funded by the Department of Housing. The Minister’s still unexplained decision to exclude from the monthly figures homeless families who are accommodated in premises ‘with their own front’ door means that the monthly figures show only part of the problem. Focus Ireland called on the Department of Housing to publish the number of families living in ‘own door’ emergency accommodation, which is the practice in England and Scotland where similar properties are used to accommodate homeless families.
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