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Call for better access to alcohol treatment services to help tackle rural homelessness

More than 1,200 people are homeless across rural Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/Fusionstudio

MORE THAN 1,200 people are homeless across rural Ireland, a 30% annual increase, according to official figures.

While the problem is generally worse in cities and urban areas, rural homelessness has also been increasing in recent years.

The Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) has today issued a number of proposals it believes will help tackle the issue – including an ‘empty homes network’ and creating better access to drug and alcohol treatment supports. 

CEO Pat Doyle said the organisation has been “engaging with an increasing number of local authorities outside of Dublin, which is a reflection of the growing need”.

“This expansion has seen us provide greater number of services and an increased number of housing units in more rural counties and has also deepen our understanding of the issues people are facing across Ireland.”

Here’s what the charity is proposing:

Establish a multi-agency taskforce on rural homelessness

The PMVT believes that a multi-agency taskforce on rural homelessness should be established immediately with a cross-section of government departments, statutory agencies and voluntary organisations.

The taskforce would be charged with delivering “a high intensity and tailored response to the challenges of rural homelessness”.

Strengthen investment in affordable and social housing in our towns and villages

“The discussion on housing and social housing is almost exclusively focused on our cities and not enough attention is paid to the needs of the 38,000 households in rural Ireland waiting on social housing,” the PMVT said.

The charity added that new social housing must also be built to “reflect the actual housing need that exists and adequate provision must be made for single-person households, including people exiting homelessness”.

Establish an empty homes network for rural Ireland

Further to the government’s National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy, the PMVT believes there is an urgent need to put in place an ‘empty homes network’.

This network should consist of local authority staff, approved housing bodies and other appropriate agencies and organisations that “would establish sustainable ways to revitalise our towns and villages for community benefit”.

The network would also “work to counter increasing levels of vacancy arising in rural in towns in both commercial and residential buildings”.

Introduce a new Housing First programme for rural Ireland

The PMVT believes that the introduction of a rural-focused Housing First programme is necessary. It said that such a model has been very successful in Dublin, where it has been operational since 2014.

This initiative would have the added benefit of providing rough sleeper engagement teams across rural counties, the charity added.

Better access to health services

The organisation also wants better access to local health services, mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment services.

“In rural Ireland it can be incredibly challenging to secure access to the appropriate health services.

For people in need of mental health services or alcohol and drug treatment supports it is often the case that the appropriate supports are not available locally or sometimes even regionally.

The charity noted that, for many people, mental health and/or alcohol and drug misuse are part of the reason they become homeless.

“Ensuring access to services such as mental health supports as well as alcohol and drug treatment services can act as a preventative measure and also offer valuable supports to people in homelessness.”

Protect homeowners and tenants impacted by long-term mortgage arrears

The PMVT said it is “incumbent upon the State to protect people who may currently reside in a home that is likely to be subject to repossession proceedings”.

The charity is encouraging the departments of Housing and Finance to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the possibility of the State directly acquiring tens of thousands of mortgages “in order to prevent people in these properties becoming homeless and/or requiring years of expensive housing subsidies once they lose their home”.

Integrated multidisciplinary homeless support service

A new integrated multidisciplinary homeless support day service should be established and encompass addiction, mental health, housing and homeless support services at a single site.

It would also offer a safe space for people to spend time, meet their key workers and also access IT, food, laundry and storage services.

“This service would cover a wide geographical rural area and assist people in need to secure and sustain housing,” the PMVT said.

Rebuilding Ireland 

The government’s Rebuilding Ireland action plan notes that while much of the focus “centres on addressing housing need and supply shortages in urban areas, there is equally a requirement to facilitate a sufficient supply of homes for purchase, rent and social housing throughout Ireland’s towns and villages”.

The plan looks into how housing can be delivered in a sustainable way in both urban and rural areas, as well as measures to use vacant stock.

In response to a request from TheJournal.ie, a Department of Housing spokesperson said that the department works closely with the Peter McVerry Trust and that it was committed to delivering solutions for those experiencing homelessness.

“We are determined as a Government to increase the stock of social housing by 50,000 homes by 2021 under Rebuilding Ireland, with the necessary funding ring-fenced to achieve this,” the spokesperson said.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is working with  closely with local authorities to increase the supply of social housing and to bring a number of additional hubs on stream in 2018, details of which will become available as projects are finalised by housing authorities. 

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Órla Ryan

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