Regional Writers Award

TY student Aoife Deignan receives Regional Writers Award from the President of University of Limerick, Professor Don Barry.

Homelessness: Who is responsible for tackling this urgent crisis?

On a recent stroll down Grafton and O’Connell Street on a crisp January night, the huge number of people sleeping rough left me astonished. The juxtaposition between poverty and wealth on our country’s most prosperous and busy streets is nothing but outlandish.

3,808, that was the number of people recorded on census night 2011 that were in accommodation providing shelter for homeless persons or were identified as sleeping rough. In brief, this figure refers to the number of people who were homeless on the night of April 10th 2011. In Ireland, homelessness is a growing problem, and people are wondering what can be done to solve this crisis and who will do it: government or charity? I strongly believe that it is our government’s responsibility to step up and tackle the plight that is homelessness. The housing and homeless catastrophe has been described as “Out of control” by Irish charities that are helping to rectify this problem. A report by the property website has shown that the cost of renting in Ireland has risen by 8.6 percent. The Simon Community recently said that they are working with 6,000 people annually, and they feel that if this problem is not addressed in the short term, this figure will continue to rise.

Our government is given the responsibility to ensure that law and order are maintained, that the needs of the people are addressed, and that any dangers that pose a threat to the interests of the public are avoided. It is, therefore, our government’s obligation to combat the epidemic that is homelessness. The definition of charity is “Any organisation set up to provide help and raise money for those in need”, as per the Oxford Dictionary. The aim of many charities is to help relieve this worrying problem; however, they do not hold ultimate responsibility for the ongoing crisis.

Our government has indeed released a plan in which it aims to reduce the number of those who are homeless in our country.  In this year’s budget, it was announced that a total of €70 million would be devoted to tackling the homeless crisis. In one way, it is a step in the right direction, as it is more than double last year’s figure. An additional 9,500 social housing units are to be introduced by 2018, with a third of these becoming available this year. An increase in funding for emergency accommodation is also planned to come into effect. We can, therefore, say that our government is trying to increase the number of houses available for those in need.

The government’s plan, however, has been criticised by many, and Mike Allen of Focus Ireland believes that “the number of families who are homeless will have doubled yet again to over 1,500 families and up to 3,000 children by this time next year”. One reason for this belief is that the government failed to increase the rent supplement. Presently there are 90,000 people on the housing waiting list, and new plans for social housing will take 18-24 months to be introduced. This is just too long. Families who struggle to pay their rent cannot wait for the government’s plan to come into effect. Real change is needed, and this means increased rent supplement payments. The total values of rent supplement payments made by the government have fallen drastically since 2010. A total of €516 million was paid out in 2010; however, this was reduced to just €344 million that was paid out in 2014. As our economy gradually improves, our government needs to be encouraged to modify the policy of rent supplement rates.

High rent increases have also occurred in recent times, and families cannot afford these as they exceed any rise that can be seen in their incomes. It has recently been said that. by increasing rent supplement, this is likely to add further rental inflation, and this would result in lower income workers and students being affected. As a result, the government needs to revise the situation in which landlords are permitted to increase rents as they wish. Rent certainty measures will go hand in hand with rent supplement payment for all renting people, and these will prevent landlords from increasing rents just to match rent supplement levels. In brief, Irish government policies need to be altered in order to reduce the number of people threatened by homelessness in Ireland.

All the proposals mentioned above are associated with our government, and so it is, therefore, the people of Leinster House’s responsibility to combat the crisis. This operation will also be aided by the help of many Irish charities such as Focus Ireland, the Simon Community and DePaul. Services to prevent people from losing their home and short term and long term accommodation are just various types of support that can be availed of from these charities. Volunteers and donations are needed for this aid to continue. As our economy improves, we need to increase the number of donations made to these charities, as the problem that is homelessness is most likely to continue. We also must appreciate the work and kindness of people such as Conor McGregor. He may be fierce in the ring, but he certainly has a big heart, as he recently donated €50,000 to be shared between both the Simon Community and Focus Ireland. Donations like these will help change the lives of many and help rectify the crisis of homelessness.

In conclusion, it is Minister Alan Kelley and the government’s responsibility to combat the homelessness crisis. It is their obligation to fulfil the needs of the Irish people. Currently, however, this is not the case. and I feel that it is the Irish charities that are doing more to help rectify the problem. On the whole, I can agree with Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy when she said “Government policies are causing people to be homeless”. Real change is needed and it needs to happen now.

 Aoife Deignan.