WITH MORE PEOPLE who are homeless or at the risk of homelessness than ever before, charities such as the Simon Communities are increasingly finding themselves stretched to breaking point. Growing demands on services and a series of funding cuts over the past few years have seriously hampered efforts to end long-term homelessness.
The fact that people are forced to sleep on the streets, in emergency accommodation or inadequate housing is an outrage in modern Ireland. The Government have committed to ending long-term homelessness by 2016, using a housing led approach. A ‘Housing-Led’ approach involves access to permanent housing as the primary response to homelessness along with ongoing support appropriate to each person’s needs.
Housing led approaches work and the commitment is achievable but only with the adequate funding in place. The Government has promised to protect the most vulnerable members of society yet at the same time has recently introduced funding cuts directly to Local Authorities and is considering further cuts, in the coming Budget, to services for people who are homeless. These cuts will make it even more difficult for organisations such as the Simon Communities, to continue providing vital services 365 days a year and it is vulnerable people who are homeless or on the edge of homelessness who will suffer. We need the support of people across Ireland to help our campaign to stop the cuts by signing our petition.
Cutbacks undermining efforts to reduce homelessness
The current climate gives much cause for concern. The numbers becoming homeless are growing, in Dublin alone there are seven new presentations each day to homeless services. The official Rough Sleeper Count in Dublin indicated that 94 people were recorded as sleeping rough in Spring 2013, an increase of 28 per cent on the same period in 2012 which is up again on 2011, sadly these are minimum figures. Despite this, the Government recently announced cuts to the budgets for homeless services that are to take effect in the second half of 2013. On top of this Health Service Executive (HSE) funding cuts, averaging at about 20 per cent since 2010, are leaving homeless charities stretched to the limit.
And that’s not all – there are cutbacks to funding for housing support, for health services, probation and welfare services, education and training services and so on, all of which have knock-on effects that contribute to homelessness. This combination of factors can trigger homelessness and can also prevent people from moving out of homelessness.
We are doing everything possible to respond; we have put extra beds in our shelters; we are opening up new services, sometimes with little or no funding from government, and we are developing new ways of providing housing with support for people who are homeless. However, additional cuts will undermine all of our efforts to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough and the numbers who are long-term homeless.
It is ridiculous for the Government to be planning to close hostels and shelters at enormous human cost without first ensuring that the right housing and proper level of associated supports are in place.
Funding cuts hurt those who are already in crisis; who have no choice but to sleep on the streets or who are stuck in emergency accommodation for far too long. In addition, the prolonged economic crisis means that more of us have little or no safety net to protect us when something does go wrong.
The Central Statistics Office most recent survey on Income and Living Conditions, shows the ‘at risk poverty rate’ increased from 14.7 per cent in 2010 to 16 per cent in 2011. The Household Budget Survey for 2009-2010, published last year, shows that weekly household expenditure on housing has increased by 56 per cent in the five year period to 2010.
As austerity measures bite further it is most likely to have increased again. Looking specifically at risk of homeless a general population survey undertaken earlier this year (NfpSynergy 2013) indicated that 66 per cent of people were either ‘extremely’ or ‘very concerned’ about the increase in the numbers of people becoming homeless. It is clear that more and more people are being pushed ever closer to the edge of homelessness; inevitably some will fall into homelessness.
One pay cheque away from becoming homeless
What this means in reality is that thousands of us are just one pay cheque, one social welfare payment, one family problem, one health diagnosis or one mortgage repayment away from being at risk of homelessness. However, the people who turn to us often have nowhere else to go; their only option is their local Simon Community.
Homelessness must remain high on this Government’s agenda and the homeless budget must be protected so that we can continue to meet the needs of those at risk. Cutting funding for homeless services is not just morally wrong; it is cruel and does little to ease the financial crisis the current administration is seeking to resolve.
The Simon Communities firmly support the Government’s commitment to end long-term homelessness. An ambitious target some say, yes it is and it should be; we must be ambitious in addressing the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, those who are often forgotten and excluded. This Government must succeed where other Governments have failed. We believe that with real political will, with a national action plan and with the resources that are badly needed in place we can end long-term homelessness. If the human cost of homelessness is to be allayed, we must end long-term homelessness.
The time for political leadership is now, the time to turn rhetoric into meaningful action is now, and the time to make a lasting difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people across the country – people who are homeless and those at risk – is now.
Niamh Randall is the Head of Policy and Communications with The Simon Communities in Ireland. Niamh has been working within the field of homelessness and drug use for the past 14 years. As the Head of Policy and Communications she is charged with managing the national policy, campaigning communications activities of the national office, identifying overall research and policy needs and managing the roll-out of in-house research projects. In addition, Niamh is the Simon Communities National Spokesperson speaking on behalf of all eight Simon Communities on national policy and strategy matters.
Niamh has been working within the field of homelessness and drug use for the past 14 years. As the Head of Policy and Communications she is charged with managing the national policy, campaigning communications activities of the national office, identifying overall research and policy needs and managing the roll-out of in-house research projects. In addition, Niamh is the Simon Communities National Spokesperson speaking on behalf of all eight Simon Communities on national policy and strategy matters.
Sign the Simon petition!
We believe it is shameful to cut funding for homeless services when they are needed most. But we need your support to let the Government hear this loudly and clearly. If you agree that funding should not be cut, then please sign our online petition at:
Together, we can end long-term homelessness.