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Where now? We asked 18 people for one big idea to fix homelessness

From homeless experts to homeless people, we asked a lot of people how to fix Ireland’s housing crisis.

homeless ireland

THROUGHOUT OUR SERIES on homelessness in Ireland which has run over the past week, one theme kept coming up: everyone wants to solve homelessness, but no-one is quite sure how.

The problem lies in the many different types of homelessness: the solution for getting one person off the streets, for example,  is very different to the one for the family stuck in a hostel, trying to get a place of their own.

Here, to round off the Homeless Ireland series, we asked 18 people for one suggestion or one big idea to end homelessness.

Some of the solutions are big: The head of Focus Ireland says we need up to €1 billion in social housing. Others are more modest: one homeless person asks for the Government to pay some of his bills.

But again, there’s a common theme: the current solutions are not working and something new needs to be done. Here are the solutions they came up with.

An anonymous person at a hostel for homeless people in Galway: 

“[The Government could] realise ‘one size does not fit all’. The entire system is to plan in dealing with emergencies. The people assigned to deal with homeless cases do not understand where the client is.”

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Kerry Anthony, chief executive of DePaul Ireland: 

“Access to housing is paramount. Get people into homes and then wrap the supports around them. Then the culture, ethos and attitudes in society can change. I’ve been working in services for 17 years and way too often we try to get clients to fit into services and not vice versa.

“If we give people a house and put the supports in place, they will step up. If we put them in a hostel or other emergency temporary accommodation, they become more dependent rather than being closer to housing-ready.”

Childrens Playgrounds Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Brother Kevin Crowley who runs the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin: 

“What I would do is appeal to government to provide accommodation and provide centres where people can be treated for their addiction because addiction is the problem. Anybody who has an addiction has a problem and especially the drug situation is huge and I think money should be put into helping these people to help their addiction.”

Enda Kenny Capuchin Day Centres Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Suzanne Carpendale of Threshold’s Access Housing Unit in Cork: 

“Supported accommodation for long-term homeless who will never be able to live independently.”

File photo: Housing and Construction industry. Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

A person who attends a hostel for homeless people in Galway: 

“[The Government could] make it easier to deal with authorities – council – housing.”

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Eoin O’Sullivan, professor of social work and social policy at Trinity College Dublin: 

“There isn’t a homeless crisis in Ireland. The number [of homeless people] has always been relatively small and it’s mainly people trapped in long-term supported accommodation. It was actually much higher in the early 2000s, but the numbers have been consistent between 2008 and 2014.

“There have always been pressures in the housing market, and the homeless population will reflect problems in the rental sector. If you look back at every year for the last 20 years, the headlines in the papers say that there has been a crisis.

“We’re the only country in Europe that has a detailed plan to end homelessness. We can denounce it, but we’re the only country that has a plan.  It’s possible that 2016 can see an end to it for people who are long-term homeless. It’s much easier to meet their needs in stable accommodation rather than in chaotic congregate facilities. ”

File photo: Dublin Simon say ending long-term homelessness by 2016 is unachievable Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Fergal Black, Director of Care and Rehabilitation at the Irish Prison Service: 

“A lot of good work [in prison] will come to nothing if there is no suitable accommodation on release. Prisoners, especially those who have done time for serious and sexual crimes, are well down the pecking order of priorities. Working with people while they are in prison across healthcare, education, recreation and work provides not just a pastime, but a lifeline.”

Inside Mountjoy Prisons Source: Photocall Ireland

Martin O’Connor, the deputy CEO of COPE Galway: 

“We need investment in social housing and we need to ring-fence investment for homeless people. In terms of rent supplement, we need to prioritise people who are at risk of homelessness. We would like anybody at risk of becoming homeless to be paid above the prevailing rent cap to allow them to continue to stay in their home. We also desperately need something to incentivise landlords to enter the RAS [Rental Accommodation Scheme].”

cope galway Source: COPE Galway

Nat O’Connor of TASC, the think-tank for action on social change: 

“The single barrier to ending homelessness and housing need is the lack of appropriate housing units. Housing is a long-term investment, and the State’s decision to cease serious investment in social housing has led to the current large shortfall in suitable, affordable housing.

“Any commitment to eliminate homelessness must be accompanied by a multi-year programme of investment of hundreds of millions of euro for building or acquiring appropriate housing. At present, Ireland would have to raise tax or re-allocate major funds to achieve that.

“But there are two solutions on the horizon. In the short-term, thousands of units of modular housing could be built on land owned by public bodies, with the aim of using these as much-needed student accommodation once the homeless crisis is more under control. At the same time, the development of a public housing model – as Dublin City’s Director of Housing has discussed – would be a sustainable long-term solution. This would involve local authorities renting out full-price and subsidised accommodation, ensuring the social mix that international evidence has shown is essential for vibrant communities and local economies.”

Property Signs Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A Dublin social worker who wished to remain anonymous: 

” I think we need to think very carefully about what we want from housing policy in Ireland. Naturally, everyone wants people to be housed; however we need to look at what sort of communities we want to create. A social housing building programme which creates the Basin Streets and Darndales of tomorrow would be a disaster.

“We need to build mixed estates. Relying on the private sector to provide social housing as a by-product of private housing initiatives is equally problematic, as 20% of nothing is still nothing. Schemes whereby the previous government allowed developers to offer alternative properties elsewhere for social housing were wrong and lead to the creation of sink estates.

“In terms of solving the immediate emergency needs of families experiencing homelessness, hotels and B&Bs are especially inappropriate as families lack basic privacy. There are usually no cooking facilities. Laundry is restricted and the children cannot have guests or friends over. This is not a reasonable solution to the problems facing families in crisis. One of the reasons why families often end up in emergency accommodation is they cannot be on the housing list if they are staying with relatives or friends, as they would be classed as ‘housed’ by the Council. Many extended families could help house their relatives in crisis if this did not lead to the affected family been considered to be suitably housed and no longer in need of accommodation. This is a completely ridiculous situation.”

Dublin Stock Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

An anonymous person attending the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin: 

“The Government could try to help pay my bills and help a little more.”

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Bertrand Maître, senior research officer at the ESRI:

“What we’re doing at the moment is not working. We need to do more. It’s not just about houses or vacant buildings. A lot of people have social issues, problems with addiction or low levels of education: it’s already hard to get into the labour market in a recession and these things make it even more difficult to go back.

“Prevention is key. It’s very hard once people have been on the streets for a few years to bring them back to normality. To prevent that, we need to notice at any stage when people are starting to have issues that put them at risk of homelessness”.

“It’s not just about finding a place to live. There are many types of homelessness so it’s complex. There’s no one solution”.

Dun Laoghaire Sleep Outs Protests Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Tony Geoghegan, chief executive of Merchants Quay Ireland: 

“It’s hard to come down on one thing but rent control is very important. Historically, private rented accommodation has been the main route out of homelessness.  Most homeless people are single and they have tended to move into the private rented sector, but with rents going up so much, that’s becoming impossible, and that’s leading to a huge clogging up in the system.

“Linked to that is the need to find a more effective way of providing rent allowance. We need to sort out the cap [on rent allowance] and streamline it so that people aren’t left waiting two or three weeks for approval. Also, it should be promoted to landlords as a more positive thing. You’d think on some level that the State paying the rent should be seen as more secure. The reason it’s not, of course, is because of the old negative stereotype of people receiving welfare.”

8408266786_69b37f3ea1_z Source: Nick Page via Flickr/Creative comments

An anonymous person staying at a hostel in Dublin city: 

“The Government could get me somewhere to live for now.”

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 Mark Byrne, Acting CEO of Focus Ireland: 

“Thankfully, government has started to adopt a housing-led approach. The key to that is delivering housing first and then delivering the supports to people in those houses. Obviously with the economic situation, there has been no delivery of social housing for a number of years.

“Government needs to deliver more social housing – that will take an investment of anything from €550 million and €1 billion to kickstart the programme.

“I think that type of investment – up to €1 billion – is actually what is required. How we spend that money is really important. We don’t want to return to large scale tenement buildings or slums or creating difficult social areas.

“What works for us at the moment is a great mix of social tenancies. So you will have some people with high-support needs, and with the right supports, they can reintegrate into community with all other types of citizens. Really, it’s the way we spend the money and how we wrap supports around those people, as well as the bricks and mortar. It needs to be done in a planned way with a geographical spend. ”

Ballymun resident prepares to leave Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Dr Briege Casey, lecturer at DCU: 

“Impending or experienced homelessness challenges an individual’s or family’s physical, psychological and social resources and the level and quality of support provided during this period can have a dramatic impact on resultant outcomes.  It follows then, that workers who are supporting people in these situations require knowledge and skills that are wide ranging yet flexible and effective in specific circumstances.

“Working productively in current homeless service provision demands knowledge around welfare and housing provision/rights, physical/mental health and illness/addiction, multicultural issues, abuse and trauma as well as skills in assessment and support planning/case management and interagency working, psychologically therapeutic interventions, managing challenging behaviour, promoting safety and health, advocacy, mediation to name but a few. The pressures and demands on homeless sector workers are considerable and there is a concomitant requirement that this workforce should be adequately prepared in terms of ongoing training and education and supported in terms of accessible and effective supervision.”

4/8/2011 The Ending Homelessness Exhibitions Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Tony Duffin, Director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project: 

“It is widely acknowledged that there is a group of homeless people who have severe and enduring substance misuse problems. In Ireland, there are substantial barriers to accessing residential treatment for addiction. Typically, to get into residential addiction treatment, you must either pay or meet certain criteria with regard to the quantities and types of drugs you are using. The reality is that these demands effectively mean that many people who are on the streets and experiencing addiction are unable to access residential treatment.

“If we are to provide effective routes out of addiction and homelessness, we need to ensure that the money follows the service user, and that the most money is focused on those with the most need. One immediate thing we can do is to establish Residential Crisis Stabilisation Units in Ireland, which medically stabilise people based on presenting need, and provide routes to longer term treatment without placing unnecessary barriers to access. As it stands, the system works against those with multiple and complex needs – we need to change this.”

Heroin use in Ireland Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst at Social Justice Ireland 

“Ireland is in the midst of a social housing crisis. The State is failing children; it is also failing all the others currently on waiting lists – close to a quarter of a million people in total. Poor housing conditions lead to poor outcomes for children. These long waiting lists and Ireland’s high poverty rates among children will lead to very negative long-term outcomes for a great many of Ireland’s most vulnerable children.

“Government has no credible plan to address the social housing crisis. Immediate and significant action is needed. Capital investment is required so that the supply of social housing, including co-op and voluntary/non-profit housing, is on the scale required to eliminate Local Authority waiting lists. Housing is a ‘social right’ and this should inform our national housing policy.”

TRAVELLERS ETHNIC MINORITIES TRAVELING COMMUNITY HALTING SITES CARAVANS Source: Photocall Ireland

Logo pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

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

 

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