Dublin’s Homelessness CrisisAs the formerly invisible problem of homelessness in Dublin comes out into the open, Gráinne Loughran investigates who make up Dublin’s homeless and why.The numbers are stark. The most recent figures released show that the number of homeless children in Dublin has more than doubled in the last year and that there were 4,999 homeless people on the streets during the week of 21st to 28th September. The homelessness crisis has been deteriorating for the past number of years to the point where, for the first time, it is becoming an issue of public interest. Following the death of Jonathan Corrie almost a year ago just metres from the Dáil in the December cold, public attention has been more directly focused on what previously had been a practically invisible segment of society.“If you’re homeless most people ignore you,” says Fr Peter McVerry, who has been working with the homeless for over 35 years. “They pass by on the other side of the road. They don’t want to have any relationship with you, even to say hello, they’re nervous about doing it. So the hardest part of being homeless is actually that sense that you’re an outcast, that nobody wants to know you, that you are rejected, that you are looked down upon.”
“Under current policies we will never eradicate homelessness. Unless there is a change in attitude and a change in policy, we’re not going to eradicate homelessness”The typical attitude to homeless people is that they are mostly addicts or have mental health problems, or have been in trouble with the law. The reality however is that of the 4,999 homeless people in Dublin during that week in September, roughly half were parents with children. 1,571 children, 980 parents and 2,448 adults without children were homeless in Dublin during those seven days. “There’s a stigma that attaches to homeless people, because of the perception that they’re all, you know, alcoholics or drug users, they’ve brought it on themselves, that would be the typical attitude,” says Fr McVerry. “And that stigma attaches even to people who don’t have those problems. For example, it was suggested that some homeless families might relocate down the country. There was uproar from my provincial town, they said ‘we don’t want Dublin’s homeless coming down here!’ Even though these homeless families, they’re absolutely no different from the families that were living down there already.”The overwhelming cause of homelessness today is not drugs or mental health, but quite simply poverty, according to McVerry. “A lot of people in the private rental sector, the rents are going up and up and up at an astronomical rates, and people just can no longer afford to pay their rents and they’re getting evicted. So the primary cause of homelessness today is just poverty. People don’t have the money to avail of accommodation… The reality is that the vast majority of homeless people are invisible, and they are no different from anybody else. They don’t have addiction problems, they don’t have mental health problems, they don’t have behavioural problems, they just don’t have the money to pay their rent.”In 2013 the government set a goal of ending long-term homelessness in Ireland by 2016. At this late stage in 2015, with the numbers of homeless people increasing month after month, the target seems unattainable now. “That is pie in the sky as far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a hope,” says McVerry. “And dogs in the street know it’s not going to happen. I mean, the numbers are just going up and up and up. There’s a thousand more people in emergency accommodation than there were 18 months ago, and the numbers of families becoming homeless is staggering. In 2012, seven to eight families a month were becoming homeless. In 2013, 20 families a month were becoming homeless. In 2014, 40 families a month were becoming homeless. In the first six months of this year, 60 families became homeless. In July, August and September, there’s an average of 73 families became homeless each month. The figures from October aren’t out, but I have been reliably informed it’s going to be 80 plus… so the numbers are just going up and up and up. This problem is out of control.”The question it seems now is not when will we eradicate homelessness, but if it’s possible at all. With cuts in funding to addiction and mental health services and no increase in the rent supplement year on year, it seems impossible to eradicate homelessness as rent prices grow. According to McVerry, the only solution to homelessness is the introduction of social housing. “Under current policies we will never eradicate homelessness. Unless there is a change in attitude and a change in policy, we’re not going to eradicate homelessness,” says McVerry. “The solution is social housing. That is housing owned and controlled by local governments. Now, there’s a huge reluctance on the part of government to do that. It’s expensive. To eliminate the current social housing waiting lists, which are in excess of 100,000, would require an investment of one billion euros a year for the next twenty years. Local authorities don’t actually want to be running social housing because they see it as problematic. They have the experience of the Ballymuns and the Tallaghts which have caused them endless problems in trying to manage those estates. And they don’t want social housing estates again. But it is the only solution, unless there is a change of attitude on the part of government, we’re not going to see it. Government policy is still to delegate the responsibility for social housing to the private sector.”
“The reality however is that of the 4,999 homeless people in Dublin during that week in September, roughly half were parents with children.”With the future looking less than bright for the homeless of Dublin under current policies, it’s difficult to know how to help solve the crisis, but Fr McVerry is adamant that the most important thing to change is attitude. “I always say to people the most important thing you can do is when you see a homeless person, just go up and have a chat for two seconds with them. Ask them how they are. People are very reluctant to do that but that is the most important thing, because that gives homeless people a sense then that even if this person can’t solve my homelessness, at least they do care.” If we can all make that just that smallest of gestures, perhaps the lives of the homeless in Dublin can be improved for the better.