Homeless in Ireland

Francis Doherty, Head of Communications at the Peter McVerry Trust, has welcomed the commitment signalled by the Government to tackle the homeless crisis in Ireland.

Speaking at the recent eolas Magazine Housing Conference 2016, Francis Doherty acknowledged that the Rebuilding Ireland strategy had flagged up homelessness as one of its five central pillars. However, he asserted: “This is only a beginning. Essentially, the Government must seek to tackle the core problem of preventing people falling into the trap of homelessness in the first place.”

According to Doherty, the Trust, which was established in 1983 to focus on homelessness, social disadvantage and drug misuse, is currently dealing with 4,705 unique individuals on an annual basis and is active across Dublin, Kildare and Limerick. “Back in 2008, the figure was 308. In terms of the people that we work with, the gender breakdown is 74 per cent male and 26 per cent female.”

Doherty said that some 6,847 people are actively seeking emergency accommodation in Ireland at the present time. This includes almost 3,000 adults and families with almost 2,500 children. “But there are also an unknown number of people sleeping rough. And no records are kept of the hidden homeless.”

Discussing the profile of those who are homeless in Ireland at the present time he indicated that, up until recent years, this cohort has been typically dominated by unemployed, single males, who had prematurely withdrawn from education. “Also included are those with addiction problems, those leaving state care institutions and people caught in the poverty trap. But, fundamentally, all of these people have complex needs.”

However, Doherty emphasised that this profile has underwent some degree of transformation as people from more affluent socio-economic backgrounds trickle down into homelessness amidst the wake of the economic crash. “Youth homelessness is also on the increase,” he adds. “The current figures include 3,203 children and youths, aged 24 and under. These are highly vulnerable people and the challenge of homelessness will have a lasting impact on them.”

Doherty then outlined a series of new approaches to tackling homelessness which are currently under development within the McVerry Trust. “A case in point is our Housing First initiative,” he detailed. “This focuses on the immediate provision of long-term and permanent accommodation for the homeless, with supports and services subsequently built around the needs of each individual.

“The Housing First model differs significantly from the treatment first approach or staircase model taken by other support strategies. These work on the basis that a homeless person must deal with issues that gave rise to their homelessness, or have arisen as a result of homelessness, before they are ready for long-term accommodation.” Doherty explained that the Housing First project will target rough sleepers initially, before being broadened to include those in shelters.

Doherty was vocal in his support for radical rental reform in Ireland. “The Trust is very concerned that continuing to allow the market to determine the cost of renting will only push more individuals and families into homelessness. There is also an onus on the Government to invest in mixed tenure communities. Everything possible must be done to reduce social fragmentation.

“The Government must also do all it can to tackle the root causes of homelessness. Poverty and inequality within our society go to the heart of the problem. The response from the government must reflect the need for improved educational and health care facilities.

“Providing improved training and employment opportunities will also be required. We also need a national response from government: not one that is Dublin-centred.”

He continued: “To successfully tackle homelessness, we need to combine our responses to the current crisis while directly addressing the root causes of the problem. Nobody should be homeless for more than two weeks!”

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