Homelessness epidemic escalates

John Flanagan, Former Rough Sleeper Team manager and current Substance Misuse Nurse for Dublin Simon Community Detox Unit.

Socialist Worker 381

John Flanagan, Former Rough Sleeper Team manager and current Substance Misuse Nurse for Dublin Simon Community Detox Unit.

SW Homeless ManThis Government has yet again failed to deliver to the growing list of our most vulnerable citizens. Despite the fanfare of the special summit on Dec 4 after the unnecessary death of Jonathon Corrie on the doorsteps of Leinster House, our homeless crisis continues to spiral out of control. Fr. Peter McVerry has predicted “a tsunami of homelessness” echoing both Dublin Simon and Focus Ireland’s outlook.

The most recent rough sleeper count in April of this year recorded 105 people sleeping rough with a further 46 using the recently opened night cafe on Merchants Quay. A 19% increase on last year’s April count. Considering the recent provision of 271 beds these are shocking figures.

In addition to this the number of “new” homeless and homeless families is at an all time high with 411 families and 911 children in emergency hotel and hostel accommodation. These figures are compounded by cuts to rent allowance at a time when rents are up 15%-20% in urban areas and by a refusal of landlords to take people on rent allowance, effectively a form of discrimination,  and most recently by an attack on lone parents.

The phenomenon of the “new” homeless has come about directly as a result of countless austerity budgets. Homelessness is a symptom of this greed driven crisis and has been paid in the currency of inequality, poverty, addictions, mental health, unemployment, suicide and the hopes and dreams of not only this  generation but also those who have been forced to leave our shores. The victims are endless. Where once homelessness was dominated by single men who had been abandoned by the state having left care and who were dealing with alcohol or drug dependency, now more and more families are finding themselves without shelter. There are no places left in hotels, guesthouses and emergency units .

In 2010, The Dublin Region Homeless Executive spent just €13,814.95 accommodating homeless people/families in hotels and B&Bs. In 2013, it spent €1,356,281. That’s 96 times higher than the 2010 total. Presently it is estimated that since 2014 the government will have spent upwards of £4,000,000 on this type of accommodation. Handsome pay cheques for private individuals running often squalid B&Bs and roadside hotels, clearly not fit for accommodating families. For this type of money new social housing units could be delivered  or the refitting of the multitude of abandoned NAMA properties .

The government continues to absolve themselves of the impending tsunami and instead looks to NGOs to fix problems created by their neoliberal policies, They exempting themselves from finding solutions and government funding fails to match the scale of the recent cuts in recent times.

The greater the devastation caused by austerity the more NGOs are growing at an alarming rate. Political activist Arundhati Roy best describes the growth of NGOs :  “Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, gently luring them away from radical confrontation” and grassroots campaigns”. This government must be held accountable.

Whilst social housing will provide immediate support, this will not happen overnight. There are a myriad of other areas that need addressing to help those not only in long term homelessness but those at risk of becoming homeless. Firstly there is a huge need to improve the supports and general maintenance of our current emergency hostels. Wet hostels were an innovative  idea twenty years ago, the aim being to encourage rough sleepers off the streets by allowing them to drink in hostels so that workers could engage with them over time and begin to address their addiction issues. Unfortunately over time this has extended to rampant drug misuse having the misfortune of turning most Dublin hostels into often dangerous and inhospitable places. This practice must end and drug and alcohol free beds should be provided more often or possibly in sections of buildings.

The provision of mental health and addiction services have been severely cut in recent times, again leaving our most vulnerable at risk of enduring problems and falling into homelessness. There are currently 10,000 plus people receiving methadone with almost 50% taking methadone for over 10 years at a cost of €20 million per annum. There are approx. 120 dedicated detox beds in the entire country, which makes little or no sense. Of this number most are provided by overstretched NGOs or Cuan Mhuire which for obvious reasons are often not welcomed by homeless people who may have suffered at the hands of the Church. Our drug policies need to be radically challenged.

I am however encouraged by recent grassroots campaigns highlighting the plight of our homeless population and believe that this new level of activism is very positive.

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