I was recently asked to give a talk to 4th class girls at a local Primary school on Ireland’s homeless crisis. The current situation is of such a concern that even 10- and 11-year-old school children want to know why it is happening. One bright young child asked me,
“Why are the Government not doing more to ensure that everyone has a home?” That question has been asked by so many but I would guess not by a child of such young age, and that question strikes straight to the heart of the homeless crisis.
At numerous Pre-Budget submissions we have called for more social housing to be built, instead we get targets, plans and more reliance on the private sector to accommodate those in need of permanent secure social housing. Over reliance on the private sector to provide housing is not working. In fact it is the main cause of the crisis we find ourselves in. Repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different outcome is the definition of stupidity.
At this stage those seeking social housing do not want to go to private landlords because they know that it could well be only short term and they’ll be back to square one again should the landlord wish to sell or renovate the property. They want a secure, safe, social house, they want a home.
We in SVP know from our visits to people that it’s not possible for anyone to have a chance in life unless they first have a secure, safe home. State investment in social housing always pays back a dividend in citizens that can work or study and bring up their children in a secure environment. So to repeat that young girl’s question: Why are the Government not doing more to ensure that everyone has a home? Why are we not seeing more social housing being built?
We in SVP are playing our part to support and help those experiencing homelessness, our members are helping families to avoid losing their homes and also visiting families in hotels and B&Bs while many members are on the ground providing relief to those sleeping rough and the many who have to avail of night hostels.
We are witness to many shocking and disgraceful situations that would make anyone weep.
Every week a new and shocking story from someone who is homeless is told and yet there is a strong dialogue out there that – ‘the situation is improving‘, ‘many are gaming the system’ ‘I wouldn’t be homeless, I’d get a job‘, and that ‘homelessness is normal’. Homelessness is not normal, and should never be allowed to become so.
This dialogue is an affront to those suffering and to us that assist them. It is also concerning as it distracts, and impacts on how the crisis is approached and addressed. It affects progressing and introducing the initiatives and policies that are needed, and also from focusing the resources where they're most needed. These include a more ambitious target for the building of social and also affordable housing, as well as ensuring enhanced protection that can enable families to remain in their home. Last year did see numbers of families exiting homelessness, but the sad reality is that more families just took their place.
The situation is not improving. As I write this, there are currently 5,508 adults, 3,079 children 1,408 families homeless. We have not seen anyone gaming the system just people that want a home. Many people we meet, and indeed in hostels, are working but cannot get or afford private rents.
We will be counting the cost of this crisis for many years to come as a generation of children have been robbed of their childhood. I will finish with a story that is shocking beyond belief.
A pregnant lady who had to avail of a night hostel with our fellow Vincentian’s in De Paul went into labour in the hostel. The staff cared and looked after her until the ambulance arrived to take her to hospital. Usually a pregnant lady who is past 7 months is number 1 priority for accommodation but nowhere could be found for her, she had her child and sadly was back in the night hostel 5 days later.
Even the broken system is broken.