As late night Christmas shopping gathered pace elsewhere in the city yesterday evening, the Customs House on Dublin’s Quays was the destination for journalists, local authorities and charities – like ourselves. We were invited to the ‘Homelessness Forum’ at short notice by the Minister for the Environment on foot of the tragic death of Jonathan Corrie, who passed away while sleeping rough close to the Dail. Recent interventions by Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin underlined the desire for greater urgency on homelessness – hence the hastily convened summit.
I represented the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the forum last night among many charities and homeless organisations invited. It was 8pm before we started pitching our various experiences and policy proposals to the Minister, which continued late into the evening. After discussions a number of measures were named by Minister Kelly in broad terms, including increased emergency beds; bringing more vacant units into use; improving accommodation arrangements for people leaving emergency accommodation; changes to allocation policies and further ‘consolidation’ among emergency providers. The Minister said he’d bring these proposals to his cabinet colleagues in the coming days.
Was it just a cosmetic exercise? There are strategies and systems already in place to tackle homelessness and bring housing supply on stream, so the forum wasn’t ground-breaking, but it does show a political will to tackle homelessness. Let’s hope it lasts long after Christmas, when media and public attention are most exercised on the issue. One thing that has emerged among commentators is a possible review of the bedsit ban. Bedsits are not a solution to homelessness.
We shouldn’t return to bedsits, or other measures which compromise the physical quality of private rented housing. This will not solve homelessness and only serves private interests at the expense of vulnerable families and individuals. The current crisis requires a cool, strategic approach and needs to avoid knee-jerk reactions such as the recent call for the re-instatement of bedsits.
While the forum yesterday was useful in underlining a sense of urgency regarding rough sleeping in Dublin, the key policies needed are greatly increased provision of social housing – as outlined in the recently launched national strategy - and affordable, quality private rented accommodation. For people at risk of homelessness, or attempting to move out of emergency accommodation, housing with ‘wrap-around’ supports is required to assist families and individuals to live independently.
Ending homelessness is possible – but we need the political will, financial resources, and willingness to change and reconfigure our services in order to achieve this. Going back to bedsits is not part of the solution.