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Focus Ireland rejects “normal” homelessness label

By Ann Marie Foley - 16 January, 2019

Claire Byrne and Conor Skehan on screen in background

Homelessness is not “normal”, Focus Ireland’s Mike Allen said on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live last night (14 January 2019). He was responding to comments to the contrary made last week by former Chair of the Housing Agency, Conor Skehan.

“We have equivalent levels of homelessness, which is an incredible human tragedy, to every other major country in Europe. It’s normal,” said Conor Skehan, on last week’s Claire Byrne Live (7 January) show. He suggested that people are “goaded” by those in advocacy, which is really a form of lobbying.

This week Mike Allen responded and said: “He [Mr Skehan] used the word ‘normal’, but what he is saying is we should care a little bit less about people than we do, that we should just say homelessness is just one of those things, we wouldn’t really want to get too worked up about it.”

He and Focus Ireland, on the other hand, “take it seriously”. He added that homelessness is a very important discussion for Irish society and an indication of values.

“We have very different values [to Conor Skehan],” he said. “We believe homelessness is not something that is happening to someone over there that we can ignore. It is completely bound up with the high rents that people are facing, it is the young people not being able to buy or rent homes, it’s the people in mortgage arrears.”

Mike Allen, Focus Ireland, responds

Promoting the programme, Claire Byrne stated that just under 10,000 people are homeless in Ireland today according to the “official, but contested” figures.

She went on to state: “Given the disputes and recent reclassification in Ireland as to what counts as ‘homeless’, it is tricky to work out like-for-like comparisons when measuring Ireland against other European countries. But even if we had, per capita, the equivalent numbers of homeless here as in, say, Sweden or Poland, does that make it normal?”

Focus Ireland’s Research & Policy Analyst Wayne Stanley examined “reclassification” recently and stated that it was responsible for 1,600 people being removed from the official homelessness figures in Ireland during 2018.

He stated: “The reclassification of families from the homeless figure is working to undermine the ability of the available data to increase our understanding of homelessness.”

He suggested that the reclassification created a second tier of homelessness based on the quality of the emergency accommodation, and which helps hide families’ homelessness.

“These instances of reclassification weaken our capacity to provide the best policy responses to homelessness. The unilateral nature of the action is also a worrying precedent,” he concluded.

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