Why homelessness mattered in #GE2020

Published: 20.02.2020

Housing and homelessness was one of the key issues of the recent election. In this blog post, Communications Officer Conor Culkin outlines some of the reasons why it mattered so much to the Irish electorate.

“Homelessness is normal” —- This statement is a red rag to a bull for anyone who cares about the homelessness crisis as it is uttered by some ‘commentators’ when attempting to put a positive spin on the crisis in Ireland in recent years.

On February 8th, the Irish electorate gave a strong rebuke to this fallacy. There is nothing “normal” about homelessness and people want this crisis ended. What has become more common throughout the world is that the shocking number of people without a home is increasing.

I was born in London, a city that has thousands of people homeless yet this crisis was nowhere near as much of an election issue in the UK compared to Ireland. In the British election there were some great pieces of journalism (such as the Guardian’s video series with John Harris) but the main issues were obviously Brexit and the protection of the NHS.

Significant media interest

In Ireland, homelessness was such a key topic of this election campaign that Focus Ireland received unpreceded international coverage (Al Jazera News, Euronews, Radio Nacional, The Globe and Mail Sky News etc).

One key difference with Ireland compared to the UK is that the issue of both ‘homelessness’ and ‘housing’ are discussed interchangeably as opposed to as separate issues. In this recent Irish election campaign candidates from both sides discussed the nearly 4,000 children who are homeless and those stuck in the rental crisis often within the same point. This meant the issue resonated to a wider audience whether you lived in Ballsbridge or Ballymun.

Focus Ireland’s message

It was a message that Focus Ireland has been forging for many years. This crisis affects us all. We have always been clear that homelessness and housing are intrinsically linked. Ireland’s housing system is broken and it has to be fixed at all levels if we are to end homelessness, provide enough social & affordable housing and also bring down the cost of buying a home.

The Irish public has listened and wants action. They also wanted to help. Focus Ireland has seen this through increased support with our key donors and supporters.

The evidence of this support is there with our ever growing Shine A Light Night Fundraiser which takes place every October and the End Youth Homelessness campaign which received over 10,000 signatures.

Focus Ireland also kept the issue firmly on the agenda – putting forward powerful stories of the real people behind the homelessness numbers. One such person was ‘Kate’, a young mother interviewed on RTE Drivetime who spent nearly two years in emergency accommodation with her two children. Each month as the monthly homeless figures continued to rise we also called for urgent government action, comments which were regularly reported by national media.

Irish media, to their credit, have also kept the story alive. Every week our Communications team deals with requests from reporters looking to speak to someone who has been affected by the crisis. Unlike Brexit there is clearly no audience fatigue for important stories about homelessness.

#FocusOn Homes – Our Election Campaign

Focus Ireland was calling for a #FocusOnHomes in the recent election. We were working behind the scenes speaking to parties in recent months asking them all to include some key commitments in their manifestos and the next Programme For Government. One of our key asks is for a specific strategy to tackle the family homelessness crisis to be put in place as nearly 4,000 children are now homeless and this crisis is causing terrible damage.

We also believe parties need to take the politics out of housing and homelessness policy and work more collaboratively in the next Dáil. We are asking all parties to commit to setting up a Commission on Housing, which would establish a broad consensus on how we will supply affordable, secure housing in the long-term. Housing is one of the most important issues for people in every town and city nationwide and it really requires a more effective long-term approach by all parties to help end this crisis. We need to ensure that a crisis response does not lead to prioritising short-term goals at the expense of long term planning.

Our younger generation won’t back down

Another reason for hope is that our younger generation (or millennials) are more civically active than ever before. The engagement during our End Youth Homelessness campaign at events such as ‘Body & Soul’ festival suggests that the homelessness and housing crisis will be a consistent issue in future elections.

While it incorrect to suggest this election was a “Youthquake” (evidence from MRBI showed voters of all ages refused to accept the housing crisis) the younger generation’s voice shows no sign of fading.  The protests outside UCD over increased student accommodation costs are an example of this.

What’s even more encouraging is there is even genuine concern from children at primary school level. In a recent interview with a Dublin community radio station, the presenter informed me that her own daughter had come home from school saying “Myself and my class have decided to raise money for the homeless children”. Even at this young age people are refusing to accept ‘homeless is normal’.

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Tags: Campaigns, GE2020, Looking Ahead

Author: Conor Culkin

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