Belfast Telegraph

Plight of the homeless highlighted

Homelessness in Ireland is worse than ever with seven new cases recorded in the capital each day, a charity claimed.

The Peter McVerry Trust revealed a child as young as 13 was among the 3,500 people it supported last year.

Fr Peter McVerry, who founded the charity, accused Government of making the problem worse by not housing the most vulnerable during the boom years.

"After 30 years of working to eliminate homelessness, I believe the problem is now worse than ever, perhaps even out of control," he said.

"Homelessness is a political problem, it cannot be solved by charities alone.

"The problem of homelessness can only be solved by providing homes, with appropriate supports, for homeless people and that is primarily the responsibility of Government.

"The failure of Government to increase the stock of social housing to meet demand, even during the Celtic Tiger years, resulted in an increase in the number of homeless people from 2,500 in 1996 to over 5,000 today and rising, while the number of households waiting for social housing has increased from 25,000 in 1996 to over 100,000 today and rising."

In its annual report for 2012 the charity revealed:

:: over 3,500 people were supported in prevention, drug treatment, homeless and housing, and under 18s residential services.

:: 74% were aged between 18-35 and 80% were men.

:: 1,708 homeless people were given emergency accommodation.

:: 419 secured temporary accommodation.

:: an average seven new homeless cases were recorded each day, compared to three a day homed by the charity.

:: 20 children aged 18 or under were supported, including a 13-year-old.

:: 420 drug users were supported across three services, a 100% increase year on year.

:: 42 of 59 addicts successfully completed its methadone detox service.

:: more than 57,000 hot meals were provided.

:: it spent 7.3 million euro, including 2.7m euro raised and 4.6m euro in state funding.

Fr McVerry said the primary exit route for the homelessness is the private rented sector, supported by a rent subsidy from the State.

"But fewer and fewer landlords are willing to accept people on rent subsidies, as the demand for rental accommodation from those in employment is increasing," he warned.

"As home repossessions by financial institutions begin to increase, so too will the need for social housing, resulting in even greater demand for rental accommodation.

"Furthermore, the rent subsidy, especially for single people, is so low that the only rental accommodation which most single homeless people - two thirds of homeless people are single or separated - can access is not fit for human habitation."

Pat Doyle, chief executive, said the charity acquired 24 new apartments in Dublin last year to add to its existing stock.

"Our housing with support team also worked with 121 individuals helping them to transition out of homelessness through independent living," he added.

"We opened a new drug stabilisation unit in North County Dublin which has greatly increased our ability to help individuals addressing drug misuse.

"We also began providing new temporary emergency accommodation services in Fingal and submitted a successful tender application to provide a supported temporary accommodation unit in South Dublin, a service that we opened in the first half of 2013."

Mr Doyle revealed that 50% of all cases last year were new people who had never suffered homelessness before, with early school leavers, drug users and those in the criminal justice system most at risk.

He said the number of new cases per day has dropped slightly to 5.5 this year, but is still too high.

"Most people are not born into homelessness, it's a barometer of where society is going," he said.

He called for more work to prevent homelessness, particularly among young people.

"This at a time when we are talking about cuts in education, social welfare and health care," he added.

"We are not going to make savings in these areas if we don't prevent homelessness."

Meanwhile, homeless charity Focus Ireland has called for a 400 million-euro investment in the budget for 3,000 homes to be built to support families on the brink of losing their homes.

It said the number of families becoming homeless every month in Dublin has recently doubled from an average of eight to 16.

Mike Allen, the charity's director of advocacy, said: "The last five budgets have been dominated by numbers and impact on the lives of real people has been ignored. We can't continue with just relentless austerity measures.

"We need urgent investment in housing as there are now over 100,000 households on housing waiting lists."

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