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Dublin: 14 °C Sunday 22 September, 2019
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Column: 'More people are facing a brutal winter on our streets or sleeping in their cars.'

The Simon Community is hoping to press the government into action before the cold sets in.

Niamh Randall

ONE IN FOUR people say that they are worried about the risk of becoming homeless because of difficulties in fulfilling payments or mortgages, while over 20% of people say that they fear losing their own home.

The Simon Communities work with over 5,000 people a year, including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We have seen an increase of more than 24% in the numbers of people turning to us for help and its getting worse. We are in the middle of a nationwide homeless and housing crisis.

Ending the homelessness crisis

The Government has made a commitment to end long-term homelessness and rough sleeping by 2016 but if we do not move quickly and wisely, more people will face a brutal winter on our streets, or sleeping in cars. There will be more pressure on overrun shelters and extra people on the housing list.

There are nearly 90,000 households already on the social housing waiting list. According to Daft.ie, rents are up 11% on last year while the number of properties available to rent is reducing, with only 6,800 properties available on 1 August this year compared to 11, 450 at the same time in 2013.

Rent Supplement levels are now well below the asking price for rents in many areas and many landlords will not accept rent supplement payments. Most worrying of all, there is a chronic shortage of public and private housing being built.

All of this means that people are being forced into homelessness and those who are already homeless are effectively trapped in emergency accommodation for far too long.

It is unacceptable in 2014 that people have to sleep out on the streets or remain in emergency accommodation for as long as they do.

This crisis has been building for some time– and it is affecting families, single people, young people, older people, people with health problems, people battling drug and alcohol issue, and often, people this state has failed from a young age.

We in Simon believe that this crisis of long term homelessness can – and must be – solved with three ‘common sense solutions’.

1. Increase Social Housing – and the right types of housing 

The Simon Communities strongly support the Government’s ‘housing led’ approach which involves the provision of housing with support as quickly as possible once people become homeless but there is a chronic shortage of housing, in both the public and private sectors.

We need housing for people already homeless and all those at risk of becoming homeless. But it must be the right type of housing; of sufficient quality, located close to services and transport routes.

Accessing affordable housing is proving almost impossible for the people we support. Not only is there a severe shortage of social housing, there are barriers that prevent people from accessing housing in the private rented sector, most notably the cap in Rent Supplement. This is affecting people right across the country.

A new approach is required involving significant investment in social housing, doing more with the existing housing stock and urgently addressing the barriers that are preventing people from accessing private rented housing. If we are to adequately meet the growing demand for homeless services, the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government’s homeless budget for 2015 must increase. We cannot wait.

2. Provide adequate support services

Housing alone will not end long-term homelessness. The housing must be coupled with supports that address the issues that often cause or accompany homelessness.

These include low income, debt burden, poor health and wellbeing, loneliness and isolation, problematic drug and/or alcohol use and long term unemployment.

Approaches that maximise people’s independence while providing support for as long as it is needed are the most effective ways to tackle homelessness.

Opiate use among people who are homeless, especially outside Dublin, is growing. This is on top of already high rates of problem alcohol use. Yet the Department of Health has cut funding to the Drugs Initiative by up to 40% since 2008.

Our Health Snapshot study in 2011 reported that 47% of people using Simon services had at least one diagnosed mental health problem. Yet vacant posts in mental health services remain unfilled as mental health services continue to be under great strain.

The HSE ‘social inclusion’ budget has been cut repeatedly since 2008 and needs to be restored to 2013 levels at the very least if the Government’s goal of ending long-term homelessness is to be achieved.

3. Prevent homelessness before it happens

For people who are homelessness, it can be a very difficult journey back to stability. The Social Protection system is all that is preventing people who have lost their jobs, those on low incomes and other vulnerable groups from falling in to homelessness and poverty.

Resources must not be further diverted away from this.

The cost of basic essential goods and services has continued to increase over the past number of years. The real value of incomes for people on social welfare and in low paid jobs has reduced considerably as a result.

The Social Protection Budget announced for 2014 represented a €660 million reduction on what was spent in 2013. The Social Protection Budget needs, at the very minimum, to be reversed to 2013 levels.

Basic welfare payments must be in line with cost-of-living increases so that people are not exposed to greater hardship and risk

Prevention and Early Intervention initiatives are essential if we want to put a stop to the growing number of people becoming homeless. Additional funding is required to provide ‘Information and Advice services’ to people struggling to pay bills and remain in their homes.

Asking for your support

In the lead up to Simon Week (29 September - 5 October), we in Simon are asking for you to support our campaign, Stand and Deliver, by signing a letter to Cabinet urging them to stand by their promise and deliver sufficient housing.

Watch our video and hear people tell about their own experiences of homelessness.

By speaking as one, we can make a difference to people’s lives. Add your voice to end long term homelessness.

Statistics from the Irish Charity Engagement Monitor Study for Spring 2014 by nfpSynergy. The research was carried out between April and May of 2014 and had a sample size of 1,000 (telephone) and 1,500 (online) aged 16 years + and in the Republic of Ireland.

Niamh Randall is the Head of Policy and Communications with the Simon Community. Follow her on Twitter @NiamhRandall

Read: Dublin’s homeless could be housed in prefabs

More: Touching comic tells story of homeless man who saved rabbit from Liffey

Related: One family a day is becoming homeless in Dublin

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