massaging numbers

'Hopeless fantasy': McVerry warns that homelessness will increase by 2016, not be eliminated

Joan Burton defended the government’s Housing Bill at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust Annual Report 2013. The Trust helped 3,586 people last year, up from 383 six years ago.

FR PETER MCVERRY has warned that rather than homelessness being eliminated by 2016, as is planned by the government, there could be more people on our streets than there are at present.

“There is no provision for the people who are becoming homeless and will become homeless,” McVerry stated.

Speaking at the launch of the Peter McVerry Trust Annual Report 2013, he said that the housing assistance scheme “would have been very welcome a few years ago” but doesn’t think it can “make a lot of difference” today as “the demand for renting far outstrips supply”.

There will be more people homeless in 2016 than there are today.

In 2013, the PMV Trust provided 75,000 meals (up from 57,000 in 2012), engaged with 3,586 people (up from 383 six years ago) and prevented 1,001 people from becoming homeless (up 17% from 2012).

McVerry said it’s “appalling” and “scandalous” in 2014 that people are sleeping rough in Ireland.

‘Massaging the figures’

McVerry said that the government’s Housing Bill was not addressing the root of the problem, instead “massaging” the social housing list figures.

“What is specifically in the Bill is that people in private rented accommodation are deemed to be housed in social housing – that is massaging the figures. Now the minister [Jan O'Sullivan] denies that, the minister says they can go on the transfer list – that’s absurd.

“Who is going to transfer with them? Who is going to leave the security of social housing to move into the insecurity of private renting?

So effectively, yes, the next assessment of housing need is going to show a big drop in the number of households waiting for social housing, but the reality on the ground won’t have changed. The figures have been massaged.

McVerry went on to call the transfer plan “hopeless fantasy” and “pure fantasy land”.

Speaking at the launch, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said that she hoped the government’s plan to end homelessness by 2016 would come to fruition.

She defended the Housing Bill, saying that the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) would allow people to “secure and maintain [their] tenancy”.

Burton said that at any given time there were 75,000 – 77,000 people in receipt of rent supplement, a payment that was only designed to be temporary. Some 30,000 of these people are living in the greater Dublin area.

She said that this can become “an employment trap” and “a poverty trap” as people would lose the payment if they started to work, something that wouldn’t happen via the HAP.

Social housing

McVerry said that the solution to homelessness is simple: build houses.

In Ireland in 2014 it is appalling and scandalous that we cant give every person a bed for the night with a roof over their head.

McVerry said that there are about 100,000 people on the social housing list at present, meaning 5,000 units would have to be built every year for the next 20 years to deal with the issue. He noted that, at present prices, this would cost about €1 billion.

He admitted that due to the current economic difficulties, this was not feasible. He added that the €10 million or so being spent per week on rent supplements to landlords was “an awful waste of money”.

Burton said that Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan had made “a very, very strong case in government for an appropriate investment in housing”.

“We have some capacity as the economy improves for investment.”

She added that some of the 80,000 construction workers on the live reigester could be given employment through building new social housing.

European investment

Burton said that European leaders were currently discussing a new investment structure for Europe, adding that if it was implemented Ireland could draw from it to help address the housing crisis.

McVerry said that rent caps would also help alleviate some of the pressure, as will moving people into empty Local Authority units and buildings owned by Nama.

However, in terms of the latter, he noted: “The difficulty and the fault with that plan is that it’s a once-off. Once those unit are taken back, as the ad says: ‘Once they’re gone, they’re definitely gone’.”

joan pmv Joan Burton speaking to reporters at the launch.

Burton said “it upsets me deeply at a personal level to pass a house that is boarded up”, when so many people need accommodation.

Drug users

Another issue McVerry thinks has to be addressed is that of the poor quality of emergency accommodation.

He noted: “The quality of [many] emergency beds are appalling.”

McVerry said he had met a young homeless man this morning who had chosen to sleep rough, rather than move into unsuitable emergency accommodation that was housing drug users.

He told McVerry: “If I go into one of those emergency beds, I’ll be back on drugs in no time. What do they want me to do?”

The homeless activist said that people who sleep in emergency accommodation with active drug users often wake up to find their possessions have been stolen.

Critical age group

Over 60% of the people who engaged with the Trust last year were young, single men.

McVerry said that young people are seen by the Trust as the “critical age group” it must reach.

“If you’re 18 or 19 and you become homeless, unless you can move them out of homelessness very quickly then their situation becomes every entrenched.

The first thing that goes is self-esteem: they lose any sense of their own value, their own dignity, and that can be very difficult to restore once it’s lost. So the priority for us is young people who become homeless: let’s move them out of homelessness as quickly as possible.

McVerry stated that he was appalled by the fact homelessness is still such a huge issue, 31 years after he founded the Trust.

“It appals me because 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 5000 in 2008 … That is an absolute disgrace”

He noted that an increasing number of families were becoming homeless, something he described as “a very difficult problem to solve”.

“You can’t leave families on the street. You can’t put them into a hostel that are full of drug users.”

Good stories

Pat Doyle, CEO of the Trust, said that there were also a number of ‘good news’ stories the group had to share. He spoke of a young man who has just completed his Applied Leaving Certificate and will soon “be getting the key to his door … hopefully ready for the employment market”.

“Those are the kind of stories we want to hear,” Doyle addded.

McVerry, who was made a Free Man of Dublin last year, said that any award he received was not for him, but for the homeless.

“I have gained so much from homeless people … They have taught me so much about myself and about Ireland and Irish society. I want to thank them,” he commented.

Read: Housing Bill dismissed as a ‘ridiculous ploy’ to make the government ‘look better’

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