The Government must do more to prevent people becoming homeless, writes Sr Stanislaus Kennedy
I write this after the tragic death of a man sleeping rough near Dáil Éireann this week.
My own – and Focus Ireland’s – deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jonathan Corrie. May he rest in peace. There must be time to grieve, privacy and respect.
However, as a society we must ask how did this happen and what must be done to prevent future tragedies.
Rough-sleeping is getting worse. The numbers of people sleeping rough are rising. Latest figures show a 20% rise in the numbers sleeping rough in Dublin since last year.
Staff from Focus Ireland’s street outreach team (run in partnership with Peter McVerry Trust) are on the streets seven nights a week. They help get people off the streets into emergency accommodation.
This is difficult as the emergency system is struggling to cope. There are not enough beds and not enough suitable supports for people. Some people sleeping rough do not want to go in to hostels as they may not feel safe there. Or it may be they have needs that are not being met.
Many people sleeping rough need very specific supports. Some get this but not enough is being done.
The long-term answer is not just more emergency beds but providing more homes. Action is needed to keep people in their existing homes.
Many people sleeping rough have been failed by the State, sometimes years in the past.
They never got the support needed at the time to heal or the chance to live independently.
We must work harder to prevent homelessness and make sure people who are leaving State care, leaving hospitals and other State institutions are never discharged into homelessness.
As a society we have a duty to ensure people have a home where they have the support they need to deal with problems they may be struggling with. We know this approach works, as Focus Ireland is doing this in many cases through our own work and in partnership with other organisations.
Our street outreach team works hard and does get people in off the streets and back into a home. There are success stories. These are great to see, as it’s important to show that people can be supported to find a home.
However, despite all the good work by Focus Ireland the situation is continuing to deteriorate as there is a critical shortage of affordable accommodation. We supported over 10,000 people last year who were homeless or at risk of losing their home.
I have never seen anything like it in my 30 years working with people who are homeless. A shocking total of 800 children and their families have become homeless so far this year.
Many families and people who become homeless lost their home in the private rented sector due to rising rents.
We must take action to keep these people in their homes. We must not continue to wait until they are homeless and only then try to help them.
The Government has the power to prevent more people becoming homeless. It must raise rent supplements to match market rents. It failed to do that in the Budget and more people have already become homeless.
The Government also needs to regulate rents to provide better protection for tenants to secure people in their homes. Focus Ireland has called for tax breaks for landlords, as any system must work for them too.
The State has taken some action to help some families, which is welcome but it’s clearly not enough. More needs to be done.
Many people who are homeless – especially those sleeping rough – have complex problems. They are often struggling personally and suffering. They need our support. The first part of this must be taking the immediate actions required today to prevent more people from becoming homeless tomorrow.
Focus Ireland welcomed the €2.2 billion social housing investment over the next three years and the recent launch of the Government’s social housing strategy. This is the investment and long-term planning needed for years. It must be built upon to make up for decades of social housing neglect.
However, it will take 18 months until the first homes are delivered.
Until then, we need an effective short-term strategy to tackle the current crisis in rough-sleeping and family homelessness. This must include better access to affordable housing.
This will help to prevent and combat homelessness for many people, especially the growing numbers who are homeless purely for economic reasons.
However, to protect the most damaged and at risk people, much more needs to be done.
I hope I have outlined some of these actions in this article on which Focus Ireland is constantly working hard on to advance to help protect the most vulnerable in society.
The Government – and all of us – must do all in our power to help prevent future tragedies.
*If you are worried about your housing situation, homeless or just want more information about the work of Focus Ireland go to www.focusireland.ie