#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 2°C Monday 12 April 2021

Homelessness: Do we want an Ireland modelled on Vancouver where the majority prosper?

I live in Vancouver. Now, watching Ireland’s homelessness crisis developing from here, it’s hard not to see these two worlds coming closer and closer together, writes Richard MacCarthy.

Richard MacCarthy Writer and academic tutor

IRELAND HAS ABOUT 10,000 homeless people and up to 183,312 vacant homes.

That’s 18 empty homes for every homeless person in the country (or a mere 10 homes per homeless person if you prefer GeoView’s more conservative estimate of 96,263 vacant dwellings).

It’s hard to look at those numbers and not feel like something has gone terribly wrong, especially when you consider that 4,000 homes – around 2-4% of what the surveys say are out there – would probably be enough to house them all.


I live in Vancouver, a city famous for its beauty and infamous for its Downtown Eastside, a tiny piece of hell slotted in between the hipsterish Gastown and a glossy neighbourhood of professionals called Yaletown.

As hellscapes go, the Downtown Eastside has the feel of an asylum: it’s a 3-4 block chunk of Vancouver whose streets have simply given over to the addicted, the homeless and the severely mentally ill. 335 overdose deaths in 2017 (in a city not much bigger than Dublin) shows that even in Canada, a country with its head clearly affixed to its shoulders properly, a terrible crisis is just a few policy blunders away.

Now, watching Ireland’s homelessness crisis developing from here, it’s hard not to see these two worlds coming closer and closer together.

Addiction and mental health crises complicate issue

Over here, runaway addiction and mental health crises have complicated the homelessness issue considerably. Many Vancouverites worry, rightly or wrongly, that you just can’t give the worst-off too much free stuff, or else they will have no motivation to improve their situation and will just stick to the needle.

Some fear that offering too much might even encourage people to fail, so that they can avail of the help offered to the neediest.

Whether or not you agree with this sort of argument is one thing, but there is at least an argument there to be made that withholding some assistance from Vancouver’s worst-off might be in everyone’s best interests (including, paradoxically, the worst-off).

Aren’t we better off helping our worst-off?

In Ireland though, where global economic trends and forces are so clearly the crux of issue for the majority of our 10,000, this train of thought should be dismissed quickly.

All you have to do is ask blunt questions: wouldn’t it be cheap to house 10,000 people when there are nearly 200,000 empty homes scattered around the country (over 250,000 if you include vacant holiday homes)? Aren’t we better off helping our worst-off, especially when they will pay us back many times over in taxes once back on their feet?

How many thousand children must become homeless before the government has no choice but to act (and how much more expensive will the problem to be fix by then)?

Do we want a Trump-inspired, ‘everyone for themselves’ society, or can we find a middle-point between economic growth and empathy?

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

Do we want an Ireland modelled on Vancouver, where the majority can prosper, but only so long as they are willing to step over scavenged bedding and drug paraphernalia on the way to work? 

Endorsing through inaction

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently called Ireland’s homelessness crisis a national emergency. It’s hard to ignore big round numbers like 10,000, but things were no better with ‘only’ 9,000 homeless. 2,000 homeless children make for just as tragic a statistic as the 3.755 now being slung from bed to bed. “Cockroach and rodent infestation. Entire families sharing one bed. Children in fear because of anti-social behaviour.”

This is the world many families living in shelters and emergency accommodation face every day. That’s the pain and suffering we all – like it or not – endorse through silence and inaction. How much longer, Leo?

Richard MacCarthy is a writer and academic tutor.

The lost decade is over: Our 7.8% GDP growth last year was comfortably the highest in Europe>

An Irishman in Brexit Britain: ‘The atmosphere has changed since the vote’>


About the author:

Richard MacCarthy  / Writer and academic tutor

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel