December 2015        

No Christmas for the homeless

Around the the country the twinkling of the Christmas lights and decorations beckons us into the glitter-adorned shops and shopping centres, caressing us and persuading us to part with our hard-earned money, to place the little plastic card in the machine to buy that must-have present, to push everyone further into debt in a shopping frenzy to buy goods we don’t really need.
     While this is happening, lurking in the shadows, down back lanes or in doorways are the many homeless people for whom Christmas is a mockery.
     All our cities and towns are experiencing a massive growth in the number of homeless people, living either on the streets or in shelters. The number of homeless families continues to grow. And there has been a huge growth in the number of families living in B&Bs, paid for by the state. The number of repossessions is also growing as the banks force hundreds of families out of their homes.
     The number of homeless families has risen by more than 76 per cent since the beginning of the year. By August the number had increased to more than 700, an increase of 76 per cent in only eight months.
     Almost 1,500 children are now homeless, an increase of 73 per cent since the beginning of 2015. Half these families are living in hotel accommodation in the Dublin area alone.
     The number of people recorded as requiring emergency homeless accommodation in the week beginning 21 September was 4,999 (3,428 adults and 1,571 children). The estimated number of those sleeping rough in Dublin in October was 150 people per night. The minimum number of people who are homeless in Ireland on 30 September is believed to be more than 5,100.
     Homelessness in Dublin increased in each of the first nine months of 2015. There are now approximately 2,500 single adults in the country who are homeless, along with 1,571 children, and 980 parents.
     At the same time it is estimated that only 200 units of social housing will have been built in 2015. The Department of the Environment claims that 3,500 social houses are under construction, and that by 2017 there will be 5,000 units completed per year—more of the same old smoke-and-mirrors strategy.
     The two-year rent freeze declared by the Government is too little too late for the thousands of families living in private rented accommodation. And the Government announced this policy so far ahead that it gave the landlords ample opportunity to raise rents before the two-year freeze came in.
     Young workers, students and migrant workers, as well as families, are being forced to pay extortionate rents to callous landlords. The decision to spend at least €100,000 on purchasing a number of “housing pods” to accommodate some homeless people will neither solve the problem nor meet the needs of the people. Alan Kelly claims they are temporary and are only to serve for ten years. This strategy will only enrich those who provide the pods.
     The homelessness crisis, together with the large number of individuals and families on the waiting-lists for public housing, can only be solved with a massive public house-building programme. This needs to be linked to a ban on the selling of the existing and future public housing stock. There must be a charter of rights for those living in private rented accommodation.
     Housing must be removed from the hands of the greedy, from speculators and private landlords. Shelter must be seen as a fundamental human right and not as a commodity.

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