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'Like you’re running up an escalator that is going in the wrong direction': Peter McVerry says homelessness keeps getting worse

Peter McVerry Trust’s annual report shows that the charity supported close to 4,600 individuals across its services last year.

From left to right,:Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy with homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust's annual report.
From left to right,:Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy with homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust's annual report.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated at 1pm 

LONGTIME HOMELESSNESS CAMPAIGNER Fr Peter McVerry has called for increased government action in addressing Ireland’s housing and homelessness crisis.

Speaking at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust’s annual report, McVerry – who founded the charity almost 35 years ago – said that last year it worked with more homeless people than ever before.

“It is with deep regret that I have to say that we worked with a record number of homeless people,” said McVerry.

It sometimes feels like you’re running up an escalator that is going in the wrong direction.

Latest figures for September show that there were 8,374 people homeless and living in state-funded emergency accommodation in Ireland in September. Of these, 5,250 were adults and 3,124 were children.

Child homelessness has quadrupled in three years and adult homelessness has more than doubled.

In response to the worsening situation, PMVT opened an additional 142 emergency accommodation beds last year and will open further units this winter.

McVerry said that emergency beds alone could not end homelessness and that it was important for the government to actually build houses in order to give people homes.

“The solution to homelessness is obviously to supply people with a home,” he said.

Last year PMVT supplied 98 people with a “key to the door” of a new home, CEO Pat Doyle said that he wanted that number to increase significantly this year and next.

Also speaking at the event, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said that progress was being made in tackling the issue but that more needed to be done.

Housing first

Earlier, the called for government to switch to a more housing-led approach towards tackling homelessness.

Its annual report shows that the charity supported close to 4,600 individuals across its services last year.

It also said that there had been a 2,800% increase in the number of beds it provided in emergency accommodation between 2006 and 2016.

CEO Pat Doyle said that this increase in beds is not what is going to solve the housing and homelessness crisis, and that a housing-led approach was needed.

“We have said to Government all along that the solution has to be a housing led one yet we find ourselves constantly being asked to deliver greater levels of emergency accommodation,” he said.

Doyle said that this was “frustrating” as it meant that not enough funding was going to models such as housing first.

“This is very frustrating because we know that emergency accommodation is more expensive and less effective than other models such as housing first.

“Yet housing first receives less than 1% of the national homeless budget each year in Ireland.

In other countries up to 50% of the homeless services budget must be invested in the Housing First model. Housing First has significantly higher success rates for housing people, and can be delivered at almost half the cost of traditional emergency accommodation.

Housing first is the programme through which homeless people are given a home of their own with round the clock services then provided to them.

In Ireland the programme has resulted in 167 people being housed. PMV Trust has also been pursuing its own solo programme which has resulted in 25 tenancies so far and which it is expanding.

These people would have been the most entrenched, longstanding rough sleepers – those who may have been on the streets for years and completely lost touch with the system.

According to PMVT the housing first project had a 95% tenancy sustainment rate at the end of 2016, one of the highest ever recorded in a HF programme anywhere in the world.

“If we can get the Government to make the funding and policy shift, then the next thing we need is to get housing on stream to actually deliver a housing first approach,” said Doyle.

Read: The man who pioneered a solution to homelessness: Give people homes

Read: Want to end homelessness? How about converting every emergency hostel in Ireland into a home

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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