An analysis and contrast of the Irish homeless crisis

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Part 1 of the homeless crisis in Ireland 

Written by – Umesh Maharjan

How are we to feel if we are to live without a roof over our heads and adequate accommodation? Numerous Irish citizens are facing this problem today, who have resorted to sleeping on the streets or facing temporary emergency accommodation. This struggle is not just confined to Ireland it is a universal problem.  The number of homeless increase day by day, which has an overall negative effect on Irish society and these individuals’ living standards.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive states “there could be many reason for an individual to become homeless such as family breakdown, social exclusion, mental health problems, drugs and alcohol misuse, low income, rent or mortgage increases, payment debt and unemployment.”

In the article published on Dublin Region Homeless Executives’ webpage it states,

The Housing Act 1988 defines a person as homeless if:

(a) There is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he together with any other person who normally resides with him or might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of,

or

(b) he is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a) and he is, in the opinion of the authority, unable to provide accommodation from his own resources. 

According to figures released by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government at the end of 2015 the number of homeless families has risen by up to 76% since January, 2015. At the start of 2015 over 400 families had become homeless and by August it increased to over 700, which was an increase of 76% in 8 months. The Simon community describes this situation as “disturbing”. The majority of homeless families are from Dublin.

Minister Alan Kelly stated his intention “(to)bring a proposal to government for controlling rents but also warns, that it may create many complexities on economic and legal issues.” In July of 2016 The Department of Housing published the Action Plan for Housing and Homeless,  which outlines early solutions to address the high number of households in emergency accommodation. Seeking to provide 1,500 rapid build units.

An article by Focus Ireland, titled “How the Irish government is addressing the homeless crisis”, discusses the Irish government’s commitment to eliminate long term occupancy of emergency homeless accommodation for the people who are homeless during the period of (2008 -2013) with this strategy “The Way Home”, which was focused on adult, who are homeless in Ireland.

This strategy for tackling homeless was based on the ‘Homeless Policy Statement’, which was published in February of 2013. Although these kinds of measures to eradicate homelessness have been adopted time and time again, we are left to question if policy will be able to address the growing number of people, who could become homeless due to defaulting on their mortgages or their inability to pay rent. A number of meetings were held between government and non- governmental sectors targeting an end to long –term homeless by 2016.

7,148 were homeless nationwide in the week of December 18th to 25th 2016, which is the highest ever recorded.

2016 has passed and one can only speculate how many people will be homeless or in need of emergency accommodation by the end of 2017. 7,148 were homeless nationwide in the week of December 18th to 25th 2016, which is the highest ever recorded.  Foodbanks, hostels and hotels are in high demand as the government and charity organisation attempt to deal with a problem that has plagued society for too long.

According to Threshold the number of people who were at risk of becoming homeless had risen by 77% in 2013. The Irish Times published an article in January of 2014, were Threshold Chief Executive Bob Jordan stated “the only way to control homelessness is real recognition of the shortage of social housing.”

In March of 2015 the Irish Times published an article centered on the government’s funding for local authority housing, which had fallen by €35 million between 2012 – 2015, new statistics show.

An article in the Journal.ie published in 2013 summed up the shift in focus for the government “Since 2008, the capital expenditure for social housing has been sacrificed more than most areas in successive budgets with cuts of 80 per cent (from €1.3bn to €275m). This is at a time when demand for social housing has reached an all-time high with nearly 100,000 households on waiting lists and in need of social housing supports.”

The Simon community warned that a rise in the price of rent by 8.6 % a month is forcing people to be homeless after Private Rental Tenancies Board (PRTB) revealed this figure.  Many families have become homeless resorting to staying in emergency accommodation like friend’s house, hostels and hotels, which was due to continuous increment in rental price, the housing shortage and inadequate rent supplement payment.

According to Simon Community, the rate of rent increased by 3% in 2013 and it rose to 5.8% in 2014. The number of families living in emergency accommodation has risen to 769. The gap between rent supplement and market rent is becoming ever more divergent, which creates a threat of even more children, families and individuals ending up on the street.

In an article published by the Irish Times in 2015 Garrett Sherry stated “The city (Dublin) needs about 5,600 new houses a year, which is forecast to rise to 8,900 by 2018. In 2014 the supply was under 2,800 units. This unmet demand is getting worse. What can be done?” Whereas ESRI (Think-tank) has stated that Ireland needs around 25,000 houses built each year over the medium term to keep pace with demand.

h of November, 2015 Fr Peter McVerry says that governments goal to end homelessness in Ireland by end of 2016 seems unattainable. He added “the reason is that the number of homeless people is getting higher and higher, it is due to the government policies and their inability to eradicate homelessness. The only solution for this problem is introducing Social Housing, which would be owned by the government”.

In a press release issued by the Simon Community in January, 2016 it noted that Ireland  has 95% of properties which are available for rent are beyond their capacity to afford them. They found an increasing divergence between market rent and the rent supplement along with the increment of 32.3% in rent since April 2012 while the rent limit stayed unchanged.

In another press release issued by The Simon Community on the 11th of March 2016 it identified that the “Latest emergency accommodation figure are shocking and clearly demonstrate that the existing measures in place to tackle homelessness are clearly failing”.

The Housing Market Monitor report for the first half of 2016, from the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), estimated an annual shortfall of 10,000 units in terms of housing output and the estimated requirement for new homes.

The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government show that 6,642 housing units were completed in the first half of 2016, compared to 5,625 units during the same period in 2015, an increase of 18%. If the same levels of activity seen in the second half of 2015 continue for the second half of 2016, it is likely that there will be around 15,000 units completed in 2016, which is still well below the estimated requirement of 25,000.

The Contrast

homeless3

In 1971 Copenhagen was suffering from a housing shortage and citizens, were forced to seek another means of accommodation. This led a group of young activists to break down the fence enclosing the abandoned Bådsmandsstræde Barracks. The invasion comes in the wake of a severe residence crisis in Copenhagen, with young people in large numbers being unable to find a place to live. The activists found the free-town of Christiania, based on the main concept of “a self-governing society in which each individual can develop freely while observing responsibility towards the community”. In this sense, Christiania was thought to be – and to quite an impressive extent did become – a liberal-socialist utopia. At the heart of Christiania lay the principle of self-discipline. There was no law and no justice system – each individual was to be trusted, and expected to respect the community, but would otherwise be free to do as (s)he pleased.

Last year, Christiania celebrated their 45th anniversary of the day that squatters – known as slumstormerene – broke down the barricades of an abandoned military base, creatively activating disused spaces in a time when living conditions were poor. In 1973, the Social Democratic government gave Christiania the official temporary status of “social experiment” – a term that many criticized as its residents had not agreed to participate. Nonetheless, this ruling allowed Christiania to persist, and a majority vote in parliament in 1989 set the Christiania Law in stone, legalising the squat.

Christiania is regarded as prime real-estate, which saw the Danish government insist that Christiania either purchase the land or be bought out, in 2011. The prospect of ownership was unappealing based on the Christianites’ rejection of property rights. So they set up a foundation to buy the land. Many supporters of the commune jumped at the chance to “buy a little share of freedom”, more than 12.5 million kroner was raised, a mortgage was secured and Christiania was saved.

Movements like ‘Home Sweet Home’ share notable similarities to the inception of Christiania, which occupied  dormant buildings to provide accommodation for individuals, who were afflicted by housing shortages. The Irish occupation of Apollo House was only a temporary solution but it open the realms of debate once again. The Facebook page of Home Sweet Home received over 3 million views and the movement was discussed in the New York Times.

There are many ways that society and government can try to deal with homelessness. The government could utilize properties that are owned by NAMA and redevelop them to offset projected growth in homeless – instead of investing €39 million per year for families living in emergency accommodation, at hotels and B&B’s.

The government could utilize properties that are owned by NAMA and redevelop them to offset projected growth in homeless – instead of investing €39 million per year for families living in emergency accommodation, at hotels and B&B’s.

We can only speculate as to what will happen in the future, as the number of homeless increases day after day it’s hard to assume that there will be a fall in homeless figures by the end of 2017. Is it sustainable for the government to maintain spending millions on  emergency accommodation while many dormant buildings lay vacant  across the country?     

christiania

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Additional Resources – Further Readings –

https://irelandafternama.wordpress.com/

https://www.focusireland.ie/

https://www.pmvtrust.ie/news-media/facts-and-figures/

http://www.dubsimon.ie/Homelessness/HomelessStatistics.aspx

http://irishhousingnetwork.org/

http://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/rebuilding-ireland/minister-coveney-launches-pillar-2-under-rebuilding-ireland-action-plan

http://rebuildingireland.ie/

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/kathy-sheridan-beware-the-seductive-simplicity-of-apollo-house-1.2912987?mode=sample&auth-failed=1&pw-origin=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.irishtimes.com%2Fopinion%2Fkathy-sheridan-beware-the-seductive-simplicity-of-apollo-house-1.2912987

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