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homeless ireland

Open house: What we learned about homelessness this week

#1: Some of the most eloquent voices in this crisis are those of homeless people themselves.

Jason Clarke Photography Jason Clarke Photography

WE KNOW YOU have probably noticed* the Homeless Ireland series on this week.

*Some of you felt a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. Some were happy to see the issue spotlighted:

In the newsroom, we felt a little battle-weary ourselves. We criss-crossed the country from Cork to Galway to Dublin; spoke to frontline workers and organisations struggling with funding and bureaucracy; heard from people suffering through long-term and short-term homelessness; examined what options are available, and what are being proposed, what is working elsewhere and what is working here.

The results of that exploration you can read in this special section of 40+ stories (or ignore, if you wish!)

The journey through homelessness in 2014 Ireland confirmed some stark truths about the complex nature of the crisis – but we also had some nice surprises, and glimpses of hope along the way.

We want to share some of what we learned:

It’s nearly impossible to do a proper head count…

Over the course of a month, we contacted local authorities, the Central Statistics Office, government departments and individual groups working with homeless people to try to collate a definitive picture of who is homeless right now. It emerged that while a new system for counting rough sleepers and those in temporary accommodation is in its infancy, it’s difficult to be comprehensive.

Until there is a Scandinavian-style record of regular surveys built up, it will be harder for decision-makers to fully gauge the extent of homelessness, and trends over time – and how best to target it.

…But we know the crisis is getting worse

The figures, such as they are, show an increase in the severity and spread of the problem - with many believing it will get worse in the near-term future.

We have very strong views on homeless people…

Readers contributed to an open thread in which we asked them to list the words they associate with homelessness. The result, showing the most prominent words, looked like this:

Wordle / Wordle / /

The comments section of our series showed quite a lot of compassion and understanding for those found homeless, but there was also a sense of helplessness and confusion about the best way to help. For example, should we give money directly to people we believe to be homeless?

…But we don’t hear enough from homeless people themselves

One of the features which had most impact throughout the week was the series of Q+As, written by homeless people, which we featured here and ran on our special Twitter account @HomelessIreland under the hashtag #HomelessPostcards

You found them thought-provoking, poignant, insightful, sometimes funny but always moving.

Which means that while we talk about homelessness, the voices that are missing most – and potentially have the best and most eloquent insight into challenges and solutions – are those of the homeless themselves.

For example, this person has a suggestion around access to services:

Frontline workers and groups are incredible…

From those at emergency shelters to those working with homeless offenders (for whom homelessness and crime becomes a vicious circle) to other volunteers, a common trait among those working in homelessness is an understanding of the factors behind the issue. Their compassion is deep and humbling.

…But they are underfunded and under pressure

Brother Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre has been immersed in helping homeless people since 1969 and is fearful of the coming winter. What options there are for homeless people are woefully underfunded and, ultimately, temporary.

Donal Moloney / Vimeo

Housing is one of the biggest issues…

It is chronic. And while the Government has proposed long-term targets, there is a ‘new homeless’ among those losing tenancies and having homes repossessed.

Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

As for this particular series, we asked Environment, Community and Local Government Minister Alan Kelly a series of questions including the following:

  • How would the Minister respond to the Dublin Simon Community’s comment that ending long-term homelessness by 2016, as stated by this Government, is “unachievable”? 
  • How will the minister and his department measure exactly whether long-term homelessness has been completely eradicated?
  • While social housing is vital, it does not immediately solve the emergency of thousands sleeping rough and in temporary accommodation. Is the Minister liaising with any other Cabinet colleague on the issue of emergency shelters, which are currently overcrowded and turning people away each night when they hit capacity?

We have yet to receive a reply.

…But a roof and a bed is rarely enough to end homelessness

Personal tragedy, addiction, poverty – there is no key cause to homelessness, but rather an interconnected series of factors such that can be structural (government policy or inaction) and institutional (what, for example, happens to someone moved out of foster care at a cut-off age?), as well as the personal.

But, as Ireland’s crisis deepens, emerging from homelessness is going to need support projects as powerful as this one or this.

Homelessness could happen to any of us…

Focus Ireland Focus Ireland

The recession, job losses, austerity cuts and a property crisis are moving the spectre of homelessness closer to more people than before – and for many, it could be just a few pay cheques away.

…And it is the children who are most heartbreakingly vulnerable

There are 32 families losing their home in Dublin alone every month. That is ten children a week plunged into uncertainty, isolation and instability – all of which will impact on their psychological and physical being, and their future.

That there is hope

There have been some promising gestures this week in relation to rehousing including this one as well as the aforementioned Minister Kelly’s announcement of changes to how social housing will be provided.

We are also taking inspiration from these…

And then there were your excellent contributions. Like this…

Or this…

Or this…

And er, thanks Billy ;)

Thanks to everybody for reading, commenting, participating. We’ll leave it with those whose lives depend on us all keeping the focus going in our communities, in media, on the floor of Leinster House:

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