A photo shared by RTE’s Morning Ireland reporter Louise Byrne this morning showing hostel accommodation for a new baby
Charity DePaul has said it has seen a rise in the number of pregnant women accessing their services and witnessed women going into “labour in a one-night only hostel, to then go into hospital and to not know where she can come back to”.
Meanwhile, there are no national figures available for the number of newborn babies who leave hospital to live in homeless accommodation.
The Department of Housing, the Health Service Executive and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive have all confirmed that the number of children in such circumstances is not being collated at a national level.
In a statement, the DRHE said there is a “collaborative support system in place involving homeless services and health and family support services.
“There are a range of specific supported temporary accommodation and family hub type facilities for women with children, including newborns.
“All new mothers are contacted by the public health nurse following the birth of the baby,” it added.
In a statement, the #mynameis campaign, which raises awareness of child homelessness, criticised the absence of national figures.
“We have spoken about the indignity of treating children as just statistics but it appears that newborns born into homelessness are not even making it as far as a statistic.
“The State is effectively turning a blind eye to thousands of children,” it added.
From top: Emergency Beds for homeless people set up in St Catherine’s Community Sports Centre, Dublin 8 by the Peter McVerry Trust yesterday; Dr Rory Hearne
Homelessness continues to rise and tens of thousands more face potential homelessness from vulture fund take-over of mortgages in arrears.
Despite all the policy documents and plans – the housing and homelessness crisis continues to worsen. And this is five years into an economic ‘recovery’ and the fastest growth rates in Europe.
Despite all the claims of ‘complexity’ the reason we are in this crisis is relatively straightforward, as are the solutions.
The cause lies in the fact that successive governments for almost thirty years have withdrawn from the state directly building and supporting the provision of social and affordable housing.
The years of austerity (2008-2015) saw that policy brought to its ultimate conclusion – the effective cessation of building of social and affordable housing.
The other cause is the prioritisation of the interests of Irish banks, financial institutions and property investors (landlords, developers, vulture funds, Real Estate Investment Funds etc) over the housing needs of people.
Finally, the problem is housing policy is driven by financial and economic goals rather than fulfilling the housing needs and right to housing of our population.
The result – we now rely principally on the private market to supply housing in Ireland.
The problem – the private housing market is made up of multiple competing interests and is inherently dysfunctional, uncoordinated, inefficient and fails to provide ‘affordable’ housing – as its goal is to maximise profits and, therefore, prices and rents.
The result – unacceptable levels of homelessness. Which continue to rise year after year. The latest homelessness figures show another indictment of the continued failure of government policy to deal with crisis.
In the two years since Jan 2016 there are additional 1,437 children homeless – a 78% increase in that two years. That means over two children were made newly homeless every day in this two years.
The figures also show the expanding geographical reach of the homelessness crisis as homelessness increased in 22 out of 26 counties including Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Wicklow, Laois, Westmeath, Limerick, Louth, Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal (where it increased by 37%), Waterford (15%), Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.
In the two years since January 2016 there an additional 633 families became homeless and entered emergency accommodation – a 71% increase in just two years.
The majority of people are disgusted and ashamed of this – that our fellow human beings are treated with such indignity – and that this wealthy state is so unequal that it does not ensure all its people have access to the basic need and right of an affordable, secure, home.
And that is why the government and it’s cheerleaders in various policy and academic circles are trying to ‘normalise’ homelessness and to try blame those in mortgage arrears as trying to ‘get a house for free’. They want us all to blame the victims of the housing crisis, austerity and economic crash.
It is all to try divide society – between those who ‘get up early’ and work hard to pay their mortgage and those who are ‘sponging’ to get a ‘free’ house.
This is an unethical and wrong approach.
There are very very few who get a house ‘for free’ in this country – everyone in social housing pays a rent, everyone in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment pays a rent, those in mortgage arrears have a debt and paid at some point and will pay again when their income and housing situation becomes sustainable.
The lie and the myth at the heart of this argument is that somehow the middle class home-owners will lose out if the government builds more social and affordable housing and delivers on the right to housing for people like increasing tenant protections.
The fact is that our housing system is more expensive than countries which have more social and affordable housing.
Our housing crisis now affects families who are working and can’t afford to buy a home, it affects students unable to find affordable housing, it affects companies unable to source workers, or people who can’t move and get a job in the cities.
Rising rents and house prices is ‘lost’ money’ from the real economy – the main beneficiaries are a minority wealthy landlord and financial elite.
The reality needs to dawn on the generation seeking to buy housing – for most of them the only possibility of accessing affordable housing will be if the government builds it.
And that’s why your concern with rising homelessness should rightly be one of an ethical and moral disgust with the treatment of your fellow human beings.
And the solutions are common – for the government to engage the entire machinery of the state to undertake a massive social and affordable house building programme.
There is no doubt that the biggest fear of the government and wider state and property establishment is the emergence of a citizen’s movement on housing similar to the water movement.
Access to affordable and secure housing, and particularly an opposition to evictions, is strongly embedded in our national psyche. Nothing stirs our passions more than home – unfortunately that has been turned into an obsession with rising property prices and housing speculation.
But as more and more people are excluded from our broken housing system this could be changing. There is increasing demand for a change in direction – for housing to be provided as a home primarily rather than a speculative asset for investors.
Just look at the increasing citizen and political action being taken to try respond to the housing crisis. From protests (see Uplift’s on-line petition here) against the sell-off of loans to Vulture Funds and proposals for legislation to set up a Housing Co-op to buy the loans.
To the Dublin Tenants Form on tenant security taking place on March 13 (see here:), to the national protest march for Housing is a Human Right on April 7 (see here) organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition, to the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Charter for Housing Rights.
Such a growing wave of citizen action has the potential to change the direction of this sinking ship.
Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne
The spot where the body of a man was found this morning at Ryders Row, Dublin 1
The first of 2018…
“The man was found in a sleeping bag near Parnell Street. This death once again highlights the question of why someone would rather sleep on the streets than in emergency accommodation provided by the DRHE [Dublin Regional Housing Executive)
Trust in the hostel system is still a huge issue as many feel safer on the streets than they do in State-provided accommodation. When that is the case there are serious questions to be asked. It cannot be socially acceptable to go into another year of people dying on our streets.”
Statement from Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), this morning.
Leo Varadkar at a recital of Christmas carols by Department of the Taoiseach’s staff choir this afternoon
Eamonn Kelly, responding to comments from his post on homelessness on Friday (What Shall We Freeze?), writes:
I can see the role of supply and demand in the whole homeless crisis, as some of the comments have pointed out, but I find it a bit tragic that we appear to be so helpless against market forces. I don’t think we are. I think the government chooses to believe we are helpless and uses this impression as an excuse to do nothing.
They don’t do anything about imposing some kind of rent freeze. They don’t do anything about building social housing. They throw us all on the mercy of the market, standing over a system that is seeing Irish people dying on the streets of Dublin. And they are doing nothing to prevent this.
If there was a will to prevent or deal with homelessness there would be no homelessness, but there is no will. And that was most apparent at the dismal turnout for the Dail debate on the issue. No ideas are put forward.
For instance, off the top of my head, as some kind of recompense for providing tax avoidance loop holes for multi-national companies, you could factor in a deal that they build social housing or worker housing, like industrialists did in the 19th century.
Something like this could be done if solving homelessness was a priority at political level.
But it’s not just the government to blame for this neglect. It is, apparently, the majority of Irish people supporting these policies with their silence.
It seems that a consensus has been quietly arrived at that we can afford to “lose a few” in pursuit of economic recovery. And besides, the new Taoiseach is kind of trendy looking. That’s progress too, in a way.
And the media too, in a wrong-headed approach to increasing economic confidence they are exaggerating the recovery. That 10.5% I mentioned in the original article, as trumpeted by the Irish Times, had become, by the RTE News at 9, “just under 12%”.
The effect of these exaggerations, as one commentator pointed out, is to attract emigrants back into a system that literally can’t accommodate them, returning due to a falsely raised hope of a recovery more advanced than it actually is, piling even more pressure onto the creaking system.
Lots of people are doing really well from the upsurge in private rents. It’s not just anonymous international vulture capitalists driving this. It’s “ordinary” Irish people too.
It’s so cruel and heartless, and justified in the main on prejudicial thinking, that sometimes it crosses your mind that the entrenched Irish establishment is made up mainly of those who survived the famine.
When I framed the question in the title of the original piece, What Shall We Freeze? I didn’t have a ready answer. I was being a bit cute. But an answer came to me hours later. What shall we freeze? Our hearts. We must freeze our hearts for the sake of the economy’s health. It’s the only way forward.
Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all. May you never have to make your bed out in the cold.
It has been said before that there is a kind of denial of class division in Ireland. But everyone knows that there is a class system, a lower and upper and so on, though the insistence appears to be that there are mainly “normal people like us”, who are annoyed for the most part by “skangers”, “scumbags”, “posh fuckers” and the “super rich”.
The socially unfortunate are explained away by seizing on a kind of Catholic throwback understanding, part karma and part divine retribution, which amounts to the judgment that they “brought it on themselves” by, usually, “not working hard enough”.
The new homeless fall into this category, a kind of secular damned, suffering the torments brought about by original economic sin of borrowing too much, and, presumably, “not working hard enough.”
The various prejudices that hold the whole thing together are supplemented by selective readings of the news. Stats are particularly good for propping up the illusion that everything is hunky dory. Just don’t contrast stories from different ends of the spectrum or they’re likely to ignite and blow up in your face.
Take today for instance, December 15th 2017.
The Irish Times had a story reporting over 10% growth in GDP, with the strong pick-up due to “personal consumption”. If you want to support the system, Leo’s Ireland, and pat yourself on the back for being of optimistic outlook, you’ll seize on that reported 10.5% growth figure and think no more about it.
But if you read down through the article you’ll find that the figure isn’t as solid as it might first appear to be, due to difficulties in acquiring accurate measurements of GDP. By the end of the article the true figure for GDP growth is somewhere between 6.5% and 10%, maybe.
Goodbody analyst Dermot O’Leary is quoted as saying:
“the headline GDP growth estimate of 10.5 per cent year on year is not a realistic gauge of the pace of growth in Ireland in Q3 2017…”
That the article leads with the headline “Irish economy surges to double-digit growth,” is a fair indication that the Irish Times believes that this is what we should believe. But the headline is an inaccurate exaggeration of the true story, almost tabloidy, so, proving that in mean times even the formerly urbane may become a little calloused.
Meanwhile, over in RTÉ, Fr Peter McVerry was also quoting figures to Cathal MacCoille on Morning Ireland, the dialogue reported in Broadsheet. Fr McVerry was calling for a rent freeze, describing the current housing crisis as “beyond crisis”. He warned that within months all available hotel accommodation would be used up.
“In January this year, there were 410 families in emergency accommodation. In July, there were 659 families in emergency accommodation. The numbers are just going up and up and up. And I would describe the situation,
it’s like a boat that’s drifting, it’s drifting towards the rocks and there doesn’t seem to be any engine that’s trying to drift it away from the rocks and there doesn’t seem to be anybody in charge. The problem is just getting worse and I see no measures being taken to try and address that problem in the short term.”
Fr McVerry added:
“The primary cause now of homelessness, of 90% of the new people becoming homeless is the private, rental sector. Their rents have gone through the roof. People can no longer afford them…”
Wait! Didn’t the other article in the Irish Times say that the GDP was up due mainly to personal consumption? From the times article:
“The latest quarterly national accounts show gross domestic product (GDP) accelerated by 4.2 per cent in the third quarter alone amid a pick-up in personal consumption…”
Hmm… Could these stories be connected?
Fr McVerry said that he and others have been calling for rent freezes for over a year now, but these calls have been ignored, and while rents have increased dramatically, rent supplement from the department of social protection has decreased.
“The rents, nationwide, in the last three and a half years have gone up by an average of €50 per week. In Dublin they’ve gone up by over €90 per week on average and the rent supplement has been reduced by 28% – there is just no correlation now between the rent supplement and the rents that are being demanded by the landlord.”
Fr McVerry added that Alan Kelly, Minster for Environment, Community and Local Government had promised a rent freeze last February:
“…he said he was going to do it – he actually said he was going to introduce emergency rent freeze. We’ve heard nothing since.”
If there were some correlation between increasing rents and “surging GDP” due to “personal consumption”, a rent freeze might mess up the surging GDP, effectively freezing the recovery.
This leaves the government really with a choice on what to freeze, like so many economic housewives. Given that many of them are landlords we shouldn’t be too surprised that they often choose, by neglect, to freeze the homeless. Sure, they probably deserve it anyway. If they’d worked harder when they had the chance they wouldn’t be homeless.
They’ve only themselves to blame.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, someone shared a Christmas card from President Michael D. Higgins. The president’s Christmas Message was:
“To give protection, food and water to those who are fleeing war, oppression or starvation is a matter of fundamental, universal human solidarity. The refusal to do so goes beyond that remarkable phrase coined by Pope Francis – ‘the globalisation of indifference’, as indifference is slowly turning into mistrust and hostility.”
If the sentiment of that rubs you up the wrong way, there was consolation to be found further down the news feed, where someone shared a clip from the Dáil debate on homelessness, with Richard Boyd Barrett quoting the Taoiseach as saying “There is no such thing as a free home.” Which stands as a nice contrasting Christmas message to Michael D’s perhaps dated sentiments.
As you can see, with careful selectivity, the news always has something for everyone.
I was a bit inspired myself by the Taoiseach’s quote, and I made up a Christmas card meme (top) in keeping with the sentiments and priorities of Leo’s New Ireland.