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Govt must admit scale of homelessness: Jesuit

By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 October, 2014

Fr Peter McVerry“I see no evidence that this Government is serious about solving the homelessness crisis,” the Jesuit campaigner on social justice, Fr Peter McVerry, has said.

In a statement for World Homeless Day which falls today Friday, 10 October, Fr McVerry said that in his view the Government is more concerned with “containing the problem” so it does not become a “political embarrassment.”

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has said that World Homeless Day should be an occasion for the Government and Irish society to acknowledge the scale of the problem in Ireland.

Fr McVerry warned that the problem of homelessness in Dublin has grown at an alarming rate with 500 homeless in the last 90 days alone; this is an average five people a day.

The number of families becoming newly homeless has tripled.

A recent report of Dublin Region Homeless Executive indicated that 80 additional emergency beds are needed in the Dublin region immediately and funding available for hotel accommodation for emergency use has been almost exhausted.

“Exits out of homelessness are now clogged. Only 757 social housing units were provided last year and due to increasing rents the private rented sector is not a viable option.”

He said the target for social housing provision should be at least 5,000 additional units each year.

At an average unit cost of €200,000 per unit, a fund of one billion euro per year for the next 20 years is needed to eliminate the current social housing waiting list, the Jesuit priest warned.

Eoin Carroll, Advocacy and Social Policy Officer in the Jesuit Centre, commented, “A further sign that homelessness is increasing is the sharp rise in the number of people who are ‘sleeping rough’ – in other words, who are unable to access even basic accommodation.”

“The ‘rough sleeper count’ in Dublin, which provides at least a snap shot of the problem, showed that in Spring 2011 there were 59 people sleeping rough; now it is estimated that there are 150 in Dublin and between 200 and 224 people nationally sleeping rough.”

Eoin Carroll underlined that such surveys do not take full account of the scale of the problem – “for example, they do not include people sleeping rough in inaccessible locations (such as public parks) or people who might be sleeping in cars.”

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice says that underlying the current crisis is the failure of policy in relation to social housing adopted by previous governments and continued by the current administration.

This policy has relied on the private rented sector to provide for those in need of social housing, using rent supplement schemes to subsidise rents, rather than ensure an adequate supply of social housing from local authorities and voluntary housing associations.

However, the Centre says, it is now evident that this policy has failed.

“The private rented sector cannot meet social housing need and there is a totally inadequate supply of the social housing by local authorities and voluntary housing associations. In 2013, a total of 757 housing units were built or acquired this is wholly inadequate,” Eoin Carroll said.

He added, “The complete inadequacy of the current level of provision is all too evident when one considers that there are currently 89,000 households on the housing waiting list and the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly TD’s announcement that an additional 1,000 units would be provided annual between now at 2020.”

The Jesuit Centre notes that Ireland’s implementation of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will be examined by the UN in 2015 which includes the right to housing.

The UN Committee will ask Irish representatives to identify the measures it has taken to assure these rights for every person living in Ireland.

The reality is, however, that since the last examinations under these treaties (in 2002 and 2006) Ireland has consistently failed to implement this right.

World Homeless Day provides a reminder of Ireland’s obligations to implement the right to housing contained in the international treaties it has ratified and to put in place the policy measures and the resources needed to give effect to these endorsements.

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