By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 December, 2015
Bishops mark International Human Rights Day with a call to redouble efforts to prevent more deaths of homeless people on our streets.
In their statement to mark International Human Rights Day (Thursday 10 December), the hierarchy warned that the fundamental human right to housing is not being adequately protected and they called for a redoubling of efforts by all relevant statutory and voluntary agencies in order to pool resources to tackle the crisis.
Referring to the 2014 Constitutional Convention, the highlight that it voted in favour of including explicit recognition of the right to housing in the Constitution.
“Although Ireland has already ratified international treaties that include housing rights, a constitutional amendment would make an important contribution to the legal and policy frameworks required to address the inadequacies of the current system, which can only be resolved through a coordinated approach across a range of government departments,” they state.
Homelessness and housing insecurity have a major impact on well-being, affecting health, relationships, access to education and employment and a person’s ability to participate in society and contribute to the community.
Serious long-term consequences can arise from the impact of this insecurity on children, the bishops warn and they underline that housing issues can be both a major cause and a consequence of family breakdown.
“Unsuitable emergency provision – such as the housing of families in a hotel room – leads to serious child welfare and safeguarding concerns,” they highlight.
Increasing numbers of individuals and families registering as homeless this year points to serious failures in social policy and inadequate social protection, the bishops criticise and they note that in Dublin more families have presented as homeless in recent months than at the height of the economic crisis, or indeed at any time in modern Irish history.
For those living in a property in mortgage arrears, the family home has become a source of constant worry and insecurity.
“We need a strategy for dealing with mortgage arrears which recognises that a family home is much more than a property or asset. It is vital that the policies of banks and financial institutions in relation to homeowners and tenants not only conform to the highest standards of ethical practice, but support the common good by working with families to enable them to stay in their homes.”
The bishops also raise the obstacles that some groups experience in accessing housing, which can lead to feelings of isolation, alienation and a perception of rejection by society.
“The tragic loss of life experienced in the Travelling community in October this year highlighted the particular vulnerability of many Traveller families resulting from the failure to honour commitments to address the cultural needs of that community in relation to housing. The outpouring of concern in the wake of this tragedy needs to be followed by urgent action to ensure the safety of families.”
“We have repeatedly expressed our concern for the damaging impact of the Direct Provision system on people seeking asylum and those who have been granted leave to remain in Ireland, but are unable to find accommodation to allow them to move on. As we prepare to welcome new waves of refugees from Syria and Eritrea, this situation needs to be resolved urgently in a way that will support integration and social cohesion.”
They also underline that for many vulnerable people such as those leaving prison, or young people leaving institutional care, our society can appear unwelcoming and unsupportive.
“This is putting people at risk and preventing them from participating in society and making their contribution, with significant long-term costs.”
In relation to the current refugee crisis, they say it has demonstrated that no country can evade its responsibilities to address the situation of those displaced from their homes through conflict, poverty or environmental degradation
“In this season of Advent it is important that we, in our local church communities, reach out to those who are living with the painful reality of homelessness or housing insecurity.”
Acknowledging that there is still a terrible stigma and shame attached to homelessness, which can cause people to feel even more isolated, and may prevent them seeking the help they need, they urge parish communities to be welcoming and supportive environments for those who find themselves in this situation.
The present situation requires:
– A redoubling of efforts by all relevant statutory and voluntary agencies in order to pool resources to prevent the death of homeless people on our streets;
– Investment in social housing to provide sustainable solutions to the housing issues in our communities;
– A strategy for dealing with mortgage arrears which enables families to remain in their homes;
– Urgent intervention to address the housing needs of the Travelling Community;
– A coordinated response to the refugee crisis, in partnership with local communities, which ensures that the needs of those who are already here seeking asylum in our society are not overlooked;
– Support for those charities working in Ireland and throughout the world to support those who have lost, or are at risk of losing their home.