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Churches express concern over ‘relentless’ rise in homelessness

By Sarah Mac Donald - 22 January, 2020

A body representing the Christian Churches in Ireland has said housing is an internationally recognised fundamental right and the country’s housing and homeless crisis needs to be raised with politicians.

In a statement, ‘Following a Homeless Christ: A Christian response to the housing crisis in Ireland’, the Irish Council of Churches and the Irish Inter Church Meeting said securing this fundamental right to housing for all, needs to be a national priority because “a secure home is an essential foundation for participation in society by individuals and families”.

Allowing current trends to continue will damage the life-chances of future generations as well as those who are affected today, the statement warned.

In their response, the Churches have said that it is important for Christians to make a contribution to this debate, alongside other sectors of society, from a place of pastoral concern for those who are suffering at the margins of our society, and for children whose lives are being blighted by homelessness, without a space of their own, and at a critical stage in their development.

“In Ireland today people are becoming increasingly concerned at the relentless rise in levels of homelessness.”

Tragic cases of people dying on the streets and distressing images of children sleeping in public places are the most shocking and visible manifestation of a much wider problem of housing insecurity, so much of which is unseen, and which is causing suffering and distress to individuals and families throughout the country, the inter-Church organisation underlined.

In order to develop meaningful, long-term solutions to the problem of homelessness and housing insecurity, the church organisations highlighted, “we need to understand and acknowledge that the current challenges are the result of policy choices that can be changed.” The statement added, “A crisis is a clear indication that radical change is required.”

Elsewhere the Christian Churches stressed that there is currently “a tension at the heart of our current housing policy arising from the fact that we have allowed the family home to be a reduced to a commodity or an investment vehicle, with the result that many of us now have a vested interest in the continued rise of house prices, which make housing unattainable for others”.

The statement warned that too often people can make assumptions based on stereotypes and generalisations that serve to blame the victims of unjust systems, while protecting the rest of society from the need to reflect on the extent to which we have been, and continue to be, complicit in a broken system.

“We need to raise the shortage of social housing with our elected representatives, rather than prioritising other issues. We need to challenge the ‘not in my backyard language’ that stigmatises social housing and those who need it.”

Acknowledging that many local church communities are supporting initiatives to help those who are homeless, the Churches described this as “vitally important work”.

But as the crisis continues to escalate, Church communities need to be more pro-active in sharing the experiences of those who are homeless or experiencing housing insecurity and those working to support them.

“We need to ensure that our local church communities are places of safety and welcome for those who are struggling against a system that can be brutal and de-humanising.”

The statement challenges Christian communities – “Do we pray in our churches for those who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes? Does the way in which we speak about homelessness and its causes affirm the dignity of those affected? Do we pray for repentance on our own part where we have been part of the system that profits from high prices that prevent others from having a home of their own?”

It also highlighted that there have been clear appeals from the faith sector for legislative and policy changes that would have a significant impact on the lives of vulnerable individuals and families and would establish a right to housing.

“We restate our call for increased investment in state-provided housing; measures to limit rent increases, improve security of tenure, and protect families who face eviction from their home; and proposals to convert unused buildings into social housing.”

“More grassroots support is required to ensure political leaders are held to account for their response to the plight of those who are homeless. A wider cultural transformation is required to ensure that the true value of the family home, as the cornerstone of strong communities and a caring society is recognised. This is the responsibility of all in our society, but Christians have a particular calling to see Christ in our neighbours in need of shelter and care.”

Currently, there are 10,274 people in Ireland relying on homeless accommodation and 3,777 children in emergency accommodation.

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