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Homeless crisis must be priority for new Govt

By Sean Ryan - 29 February, 2016

Focus Ireland

Focus Ireland has said that ending the homeless crisis must be a top priority for the country’s new government.

The warning was made as new figures show a shocking total of 134 families (with 269 children) became homeless in January 2016 of which 125 (with 253 children) were ‘newly’ homeless.

Another nine more families became homeless in January who had previously been homeless in the past.

These nine families bring the January monthly total to 134 families.

This is the highest ever monthly increase in family homelessness and according to Focus Ireland is a timely reminder that the ‘recovery’ has not reached a large number of communities and people.

Focus Ireland is now calling for five election demands to be delivered by the new Government to help end the current housing and homeless crisis.

These demands include calling for a firm target date to be set for ending family homelessness and also a commitment to build 40,000 social homes over the next five years.

According to Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen, “The continued massive rise in family homelessness is due to the prolonged crisis in the private rented sector. One key aspect of this crisis is lending agencies foreclosing on buy-to-let landlords and then evicting the tenants.”

He continued, “The repossession of buy-to-let landlords, often by banks owned by the Irish people, is a growing phenomenon and may account for up to half the recent cases of family homelessness. There are over 35,000 buy-to-let landlords who are more than a year in arrears on their mortgages and we have been warning Government about this impending problem for over three years.”

Focus Ireland welcomed the fact that Minister Alan Kelly included this issue in his ‘20 point plan’ on homelessness in December 2014. However, the charity warned that no response whatsoever has been put in place to deal with the issue and the consequences of this inaction are now being felt by these families.

Meanwhile, a second element of the crisis is rapidly increasing rent levels and the point blank refusal by the Government over recent years to increase the level of rent supplement to match market levels.

Rents have shot up by 30 or 40% and even more in recent years and last month a report found that 95% of all properties for rent were too expensive for rent supplement limits.

Focus Ireland said its experience shows that the vast majority of these families are becoming homeless due to economic factors rather than social factors.

“We have also found that many families who enter homeless services were living with their wider family immediately before they became homeless. For instance many families who have lost their own home are often able to stay with their wider family for a period of time – especially at Christmas,” Mike Allen said.

“Then when they have to leave the extended family’s home this can lead to the cause of their homelessness being wrongly interpreted as ‘family breakdown’. However a deeper look at the stories of these families shows that they were only living with wider family because an earlier private rented sector tenancy had broken down for reasons such as they couldn’t afford to pay the rent or the banks had foreclosed on the landlord’s property.”

He added, “Their period living with other family members, often in overcrowded circumstances, was a desperate and unsustainable attempt to avoid ending up in emergency homeless accommodation.”

“If these families are categorised as becoming homeless due to ‘family breakdown’ we misunderstand the root causes of their situation and obscure the fact that they are becoming homeless as a result of poorly designed policies.”

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