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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 17 November, 2018
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One year on from Jonathan Corrie's death, we're still relying on short-term solutions

His death, on a cold November night, sparked nationwide outrage, but what has changed?

Image: RTÉ

Updated 9pm

ON THIS DAY one year ago, the body of 43-year-old Jonathan Corrie was found in a Dublin doorway just a stone’s throw from the building in which this country’s government makes its most important decisions.

The father-of-two had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and had been living in Dublin for eight years. His death, on a cold winter night, sparked nationwide outrage and demands for real and tangible action to be taken to tackle what has become a huge crisis.

It pushed Environment Minister Alan Kelly to convene an emergency summit on homelessness, bringing together all of the key parties in one place to come up with a solution. The immediate response was to make additional 220 emergency beds available in Dublin.

Local authorities in Dublin were directed to put 50% of all new housing allocations towards vulnerable groups, to provide accommodation for over 300 people.

Kelly told reporters that there would be no need for anyone to have to sleep rough in Dublin “unless they make that choice themselves”.  These were described by the government at the time as short-term responses.

‘They’re trapped’

One year later and homeless service providers say those short-term responses never developed into long-term solutions.

Niamh Randall of the Simon Communities told TheJournal.ie that homeless numbers have continued to grow and are continually met with emergency provisions.

The challenge now is that we don’t have the option of moving people on, they’re trapped in emergency accommodation.

“We need to move away from this emergency-led response and look at prevention and keeping people in their homes.”

The most significant change in Ireland’s homelessness problem has been the increase in the number of families losing their homes. An average of 70 to 80 families become homeless every month in Dublin alone and the key reason is the struggle to keep up with rent increases.

Randall said her organisation welcomed Kelly’s announcement of a two-year rent freeze but it was rent certainty that was needed and that has not been delivered.

“The second piece that hasn’t happened is rent supplement – it remains at the level that was set in June 2013, yet we know rents have increased by over 20% since then,” she said.

An analysis of rent markets by the charity in August this year revealed only 7% of properties fell within rent supplement parameters, and in some areas there were no homes at all.

Though she welcomed the government’s social housing strategy, she said things just are not moving fast enough with just 20 new houses being built in the first half of this year.

Source: Department of the Environment

‘Not good enough’

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, the founder of Focus Ireland, has said despite government promises about homelessness being top of the agenda, the crisis has deepened.

“When most people think of homelessness, they think of a man in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway. This is the most visible and tragic manifestation of homelessness,” she said.

“People in this situation usually have complex needs such as mental health or addiction. Many grew up in state care and left at 18 without any support. People in these situations often need intensive supports. Offering them a bed for one night and out on the street in the morning to spend the day looking for a bed for the next night is simply not good enough.”

She too was critical of the failure to deliver rent certainty:

The two year rent freeze which he is introducing may slow the rent spiral, but thousands of families are still burdened with the massive rent rises of the last two years. If rent supplement is not increased to reflect the 30% rises that have already hit them, they will continue to lose their homes.

Winter 2015

Almost 2,500 adults without children are now homeless across the State, along with 1,571 children, and 980 parents.

The latest short-term response from the government has come in the form of a Dublin ‘cold weather action plan’ providing for an extra 174 emergency beds as well as accommodation for couples and families.

Last year’s provision of beds filled up rapidly, with figures for June this year showing 1,975 of the available 1,977 beds were occupied.

Latest tough sleeper figures indicate there are 105 people sleeping rough, though the Inner City Helping Homeless group says it interacted with 145 rough sleepers last Saturday night.

Government politicians have said the 175 new emergency beds should be sufficient to see people through the winter months. But the Simon Communities’ Niamh Randall says the fact that last year’s emergency beds were filled up so quickly shows there is a gap between rough sleeper figures and the reality.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, Alan Kelly’s department said that at the end of September, 739 ‘households’ (comprising individuals and family units) had exited homeless accommodation and moved into “verified and sustained tenancy arrangements”.

A spokesperson said the long-term solution to homelessness is to increase the supply of homes. The government plans to provide 35,000 new social housing units over a six-year period.

Other actions the department mentioned included:

  • Reforms to the private rental sector;
  • The 500 modular housing units to be provided in Dublin;
  • A 32% increase in homeless funding next year;
  • Returning derelict or unused social housing units to use, with the expectation that 2,500 will be returned this year;
  • Using former NAMA properties in south Dublin to provide 65 units for families.

While it looks like, in the short term, no one will be left without a bed this winter if they want one, we are still a long way off the government’s target of ending long-term homelessness by 2016.

“We’re just consistently looking at short-term emergency responses. We know that being homeless is extremely stressful, it’s actually very traumatic and the longer people remain in this temporary accommodation the greater the impact on their overall health and wellbeing,” Niamh Randall said.

We have a history of short-term solutions becoming long-term and people deserve much better than that.”

First published 8am

Read: In his own words: Jonathan Corrie on homelessness – and hoping for a chance>

Read: “Alan Kelly is the only minister who understands the homeless problem,” says Peter McVerry>

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