By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 August, 2016
Well known Jesuit campaigner on homelessness, Fr Peter McVerry, has described the latest figures on homeless children in Dublin as “an appalling indictment” of Ireland.
Speaking to RTE Radio’s News at One, the priest warned that the “numbers are just going up and up and up – every single month”.
These latest figures show that 2,020 children in the capital do not have a permanent home.
“We have almost one thousand families who are homeless with 2,020 children who are homeless. That is an appalling indictment of a country like Ireland,” he criticised.
2,020 children from 993 families are in emergency accommodation, an increase from just under 1,900 in June, which is a 71% increase since last July.
“This is another milestone and it will merit a tiny little piece in the newspapers and then we move on,” Fr McVerry observed.
He added that if two years ago he had said that there would be 2,000 children homeless today, he would have been accused of scaremongering.
“And here we have now with this appalling number of people who are homeless and we have just become so used to it, it has become the norm now.”
According to the Jesuit, two measures are required immediately.
“I think we need emergency legislation to prevent the banks and landlords from evicting families, particularly those with children, into homelessness.”
“They should not be allowed to put families on to the streets unless they have been offered and have accepted alternative suitable accommodation.”
The second measure is compulsory purchase orders on empty buildings lying vacant and not being used.
While he welcomed Minister Simon Coveney’s plan to tackle homelessness and housing, describing it was “a very comprehensive plan”, Fr McVerry stressed that it would not kick in for a period of time and by the time it starts to kick, the numbers of homeless is likely to be “much worse than they are now”.
Discussing the circumstances many homeless families find themselves in temporary hotel accommodation, the Jesuit priest described it as “absolutely appalling”.
“We have one family – a husband and wife, a 20-year-old boy, an 18-year-old boy and three young children – all living on one hotel bedroom…. The tensions within the family obviously increase as time goes on and the children are stressed out. Their education is suffering because they are stressed out. The parents are stressed out and the parents feel that they are bad parents that they have failed their children – so their self-esteem has hit rock bottom.”
He warned that the consequences of leaving families in those conditions for long periods of time will affect those families and those children for the rest of their lives.
“They have no cooking facilities so they have to go out to the local chipper or takeaway to buy food. I don’t know how you can afford to do that if you are on social welfare – most people even if they are working couldn’t afford to eat out every night. So it is really a huge financial pressure as well as every other pressure on those families living in those rooms.”
Asked if it costs the Government more to keep people in hotel rooms than to increase rent subsidy and allow people remain where they are, Fr McVerry said it did of course.
“For 50 families in a hotel it is costing a million euros per year. The hotels aren’t doing the Government any favour; they are not giving them reduced rates. The hotels could fill those rooms with tourists – so the Government is paying top rates for those hotel bedrooms.”
He stressed that while the rent supplement has been increased by 15%, realistically it needs to be increased by 30% to meet the current levels of rent.
He said the priority is to prevent more people becoming homeless and being thrown out of their accommodation because of increasing rent or being thrown out because the landlord is saying that they are going to sell their property or the banks repossessing homes.