News & Events
Pat Doyle, CEO of Peter McVerry Trust, writes about homelessness, political promises and the need for everyone in the next Government to work to tackle the issue.
Homelessness is in a state of emergency. Today in Ireland, a minimum of 5,400 people are experiencing homelessness and the situation continues to deteriorate. Peter McVerry Trust and other frontline agencies have genuine concerns that 2016 will, like the preceding years, see an escalation of the emergency.
Last year it is estimated that 2,000 people exited homelessness across Ireland. Despite this, by December 2015 the overall number of people in homelessness had increased by 1,500. That means, at a minimum, there were at least 3,500 individuals involved in new or repeat presentations of homelessness last year. Even though the situation continues to deteriorate it remains inherently solvable. It could be solved by a Government with the will to do so. The relative scale of the emergency and the factors that are increasing it demonstrate that it is clearly within the State’s ability to eliminate homelessness. The one obvious question is; will the next Government act at leadership level to eliminate long term homelessness?
It is important to point out that there are only 4 counties in Ireland where the number of people officially recorded as being in homelessness currently exceeds 100 adults (Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway). In other words, there are 22 counties across Ireland where securing 100 units, in most cases significantly fewer, would eliminate homelessness in those areas. Unfortunately, it seems beyond our ability as a society to build, purchase, lease or renovate 100 homes in each of those 22 counties to help those households leave homelessness behind. Unfortunately, this will only remain true for so long as there has been a failure to eliminate entirely avoidable forms of homelessness.
The fight against homelessness and the ability to deliver clearly defined evidence based policy responses is undermined on a daily basis by the fact that frontline agencies are effectively in a permanent state of emergency, trying to respond to the volume of new homeless cases. The majority of those new homeless presentations continue to come from people being forced to exit the private rental market.
The repeated calls to pair indexed linked rents with rent supplement increases were continuously rebutted by the Government. It seemed that rather than increasing rent supplement by a few hundred euro a month to support at risk tenancies, it was preferred to spend thousands per household paying for hotels and other forms of emergency responses.
Mortgage arrears is another issue that has been regularly highlighted. The signs are there to suggest that repossessions by financial institutions are leading to increasing numbers of sitting tenants being evicted into homelessness. Repossessions of family homes increased 80% between 2014 and 2015. The reposed homes and rental units are then left empty until such time as the financial institutions see fit to make use of them. This practice goes unchallenged despite the most acute housing shortage on record and ever increasing homelessness. Victims of such repossessions will become the latest group to be added to our homeless population.
Earlier this week, Peter McVerry Trust negotiated an 8 week extension on an eviction notice faced by a female tenant in her sixties. The tenant was not in arrears with her rent. The eviction order was issued by a financial institution and it appears that the sole reason to evict her was to have vacant possession of the unit. This lady now faces an uncertain future, her income is insufficient to meet market rents and as a single person she will have to secure a rental property in Dublin for €780 and hope that there is a suitable property and a landlord willing to accept the Housing Assistance Payment. Peter McVerry Trust’s staff will continue to support her and others in similar situations in every way we can.
In 2015 38% of homeless cases involved people who had never been recorded as accessing a homeless service. Those that find themselves newly homeless will join the thousands of individuals already there including the steady flow of children exiting care on, or shortly after, their 18th birthday. These are young people who have been abandoned by the State to adult homeless services. They will also be joining people forced to leave severely overcrowded living conditions behind and those exiting our hospitals and prisons.
We know homelessness matters. It matters enough for politicians to promise to end it. Twice in the last 8 years, they have promised to end long term homelessness with 2016 being the latest deadline that will be missed. Political promises have reached fever pitch but the truth is that the vulnerable and marginalised do not want more broken promises; they want secure, adequate housing. They need a mechanism to hold this State and our politicians to account. They need their right to a home so let’s make sure that the Constitutional Convention’s recommendation of enshrining the right to a home in our Constitution is part of the next programme for Government. Perhaps, while they’re doing that they can also deal with the planning and procurement issues that are holding up the long promised building programme initiated in the later half of this current Government and maybe then we can truly make an impact. The bottom line is that housing must be a priority of everyone in the next Government other wise long term homelessness will continue to be managed not eliminated.