Last week, I read with interest Liz Kerrins’ blog post on housing policy and repeating the mistakes of the very recent past. She said “...it seems that in Ireland we are about to repeat the housing mistakes of our recent Celtic Tiger history, even though the dogs in the street know what went wrong, why, and the human and economic carnage that has resulted.”
The word ‘carnage’ jumped out at me. My role in SVP is to deliver line management and practice supervision to the managers and staff of our homeless services – folks who are at the front line of that carnage. And recently I was at a meeting of volunteers from various Conferences who are also at the front line as they grapple with visitation to people who are homeless and living in hotels and B&Bs all around the East Region because there’s simply nowhere else for them to go.
It is ‘carnage’ out there in that the level of need our volunteers and staff are meeting, day in day out, is overwhelming and on an unprecedented scale. We are not alone in feeling it – every organisation involved in delivering services to those experiencing homelessness is overwhelmed by the pace and size of the problem.
In our emergency accommodation services (hostels), our staff teams are finding it increasingly hard to help people find accommodation so they can move on with their lives. This is the key part of the work that they do, the goal from the point of admission to an ‘emergency’ service is always to help people to quickly move back out and into a place they can call home. Services everywhere across the country are coming under severe pressure as housing is increasingly hard to access and rents in the private rental market are out of reach.
As for our volunteers in visitation, they are characteristically coming up with multiple ingenious strategies to try to cope with the demand on their time and resources – but they are feeling the strain. It’s a new league of need they are encountering and it is not subsiding.
The SVP Drop-In Centre in Limerick (which provides meals, showers and laundry facilities) has seen an enormous growth in demand – now serving some 70 people a day compared to 20 a day in 2003. Likewise our emergency accommodation services have been at capacity for most of this year – some 300 beds per night across the country. How resources are directed in times like these is an important issue and one we are grappling with in SVP’s Homeless Services as pressure mounts on the Government to prioritise housing, while at the same time demand for emergency services and direct support from visitation Conferences has never been greater.
In these times knowledge really is power, and we are concentrating on bringing together our vast local knowledge to create a comprehensive national picture of our work , demand, gaps and blocks to moving on, and types of need we are meeting in emergency accommodation. This sort of information is essential, not only to help us plan how best to use our resources and to present a clearer picture of the work of the emergency accommodation services to the membership of the Society, but also to inform the advocacy work of the Social Justice team. And this is key. We could easily get lost in the sheer volume of demand we are facing – both in services and in visitation – so now, more than ever, we need to use our unique position and experiences to inform policy and to continue to help create change for the most vulnerable.