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'I didn’t notice the recession in the '80s at all but this recession has been absolutely cruel'

We ask: Is homelessness really the worst it has ever been?

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It’s not just what we see on our streets but what he hear and read in newspapers, online, radio and TV. Reports from different homeless services are launched weekly – all telling us that homelessness is ‘at crisis point‘ and we’re in a ‘homeless tsunami‘.

When did it get so bad, how did it get so bad, who are the people that are becoming homeless and is this really the worst it has ever been?

Brother Kevin from the Capuchin Day Centre spoke to about when he started the centre,

“When we started in 1969 we had about 50 people but now in 2014 – in the morning time we’d have about 250 for breakfast and anything from 540 maybe 550 for dinner.

More people are homeless, more people are in fear of losing their homes, more people have lost their jobs and these are the people really we are concerned about and these are the people we are helping.

The Capuchin Day Centre also gives out food parcels. Brother Kevin said:

“Up to the time of the recession we had about three or four hundred people here for food parcels and that was every Wednesday. Now on a Wednesday we’d have about 1,700 for food parcels. That’s a huge increase, that’s really due to the recession.”

“All this was started for homeless people but it’s not just for homeless people now…it’s also for people who are poor and can’t make ends meet.”

The numbers 

Focus Ireland gave a breakdown of the number of people who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless that used its services:

  • 5,500 people in 2008
  • 5,500 people in 2009
  • 6,500 people in 2010
  • 7,459 people in 2011
  • 8,000 people in 2012
  • 10,000 people in 2013

Focus Ireland told, “It’s important to say that some of this increase has been by virtue of the fact that we have broadened the range of services that we offer so it’s not the case that we are saying that homelessness has almost doubled in the last four years.

“However, it is also clear the problem is getting worse as over 300 families have become homeless in Dublin alone so far this year. There are also many more people at serious risk of losing their home.”

But it seems that homeless figures don’t just grow in the recession, Peter McVerry from the Peter McVerry Trust said,

“It appals me that we had 12 years of growth during the Celtic Tiger years – when we had more money than we knew what to do with … During those years the number of homeless people in Ireland doubled. It went from 2,500 in 1999 to 5,000 in 2008 … That is an absolute disgrace”

So how did we get here?

Shane Bradley from DePaul said, “For me, looking at the whole sector where we are – how did we get into this situation?

“The strategy of Housing First – which I’m an advocate for and what is right – came at a time when they had to withdraw resources.

The initial thing during economic stringent times is to firefight, provide emergency accommodation and neglect the longer term strategy. That is what has happened and it is a real tragedy. Those families should not be in hotels.

“I think there will always be a need for a service like ours (short-term, emergency accommodation for those with complex needs such as addiction) when you have these women moving out of chaos and into stability. And helping the child, because they are best of with their parents.”

Assistant CEO of COPE Galway, Martin O’Connor, spoke to about how family homelnesses in Galway was address through housing in the Celtic Tiget.

“During the boom, there was a big social housing unit built and it addressed the needs of people who needed support and it really showed how social housing works. We went from a need of housing for almost 30 families to almost nothing.

However, he added that “Families cannot secure social housing now. There’s definitely an increase in demand and we’re seeing more families at risk of homeless.

Merchants Quay Ireland recently published its annual review which found that, “The economic recovery has placed increased pressure on the over-priced rental market and is keeping more people in homelessness.”

O’Connor echoed the sentiment that the housing crisis is forcing people into homelessness.

Traditionally poor living skills, inability to manage budgets, addictions and mental health issues were all factors that contributed to people becoming homeless but we are now seeing families who are coping in every other way bar their rent increasing.

“The number of properties available has shrunk, rent has increased and then what’s available can be substandard. Garage conversations are being done and people are then paying up to and beyond the rent cap for a garage.”

Lisa Silke is the manager at COPE Osterley Lodge, which provides emergency accommodation for women. She told

“If the accommodation is the right fit – they are much less likely to lose it. If somebody has moved into a property that doesn’t meet their needs – it’s not going to be sustainable in the long-term.”

O’Connor added, “The majority of the families who are losing their homes is just because of economic reasons.”

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New Type of Homeless

Osterley Lodge is a 24 hour service and has women presenting at all times during the day and night. Silke said:

“More individuals and families are presenting where it’s their first time being homeless.

“Over the past three or four years we’ve seen a significant increase in families and women and children are staying longer because they can’t find good quality and affordable housing.

A lot of our clients have long employment histories and an education background and a lot of them would say to us that they never anticipated this is their future.

“We see structural factors as opposed to social structures now causing homelessness – someone who has a lot of debt and can’t overcome it or someone whose rent has suddenly increased.

“The emergency services are at full capacity and if more people were able to keep their homes – if support was prioritised in those cases that would be a huge help.”

Speaking about emergency accommodation, Chief Executive of the Dublin Simon Community, Sam McGuinness, warned last week that it’s becoming a long-term solution – with at least 50% of people stuck in emergency accommodation for over six months.

Thousands of vulnerable and frightened people are being trapped in the revolving door of inadequate and insufficient emergency accommodation, forced to remain roofless.

“The longer people are forced to remain in emergency accommodation, the more intense supports they will need when they are lucky to have the opportunity to move on.”

Is this the worst it has ever been?

Father Kevin from the Capuchin Day Centre told

The most extraordinary thing is that I didn’t notice the recession in the 80s at all but this recession has been absolutely cruel.

Focus Ireland added that rising rents and mortgage arrears mean there are now more families at risk of losing their home nationwide than ever before

McGuinness said “Recent talks about green shoots are not reaching the most vulnerable in our society, the majority of whom never experienced any benefits from the Celtic Tiger.

“Sadly, the less fortunate have become have become more unfortunate.”

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Catch up with all the rest of our Homeless Ireland series here’>

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