HOW a society treats its most vulnerable citizens says a lot about the kind of society it is and the kind of values that society holds.
The housing and homelessness crisis says a lot about our society and our leaders — it is a stain of shame on this country. It is one of the biggest challenges facing our society and the current Government have failed utterly to solve this crisis.
There are over 10,000 people homeless in this country. Almost 4,000 children now have nowhere to call a home. There has been a 286% increase in the number of homeless families since March 2015. Dublin is now listed as one of the top ten most expensive cities to live in in the world — more expensive than Tokyo, Sydney and Singapore.
The cost of renting in Cork has been steadily rising and there is a shortage of homes. We simply cannot continue on the current path.
Budget 2020 was a stark indicator that the current Government are not prioritising solving the crisis. Budget 2020 will not provide any immediate relief for renters, those on social housing waiting lists and those in need of affordable homes.
Public housing has not been built for decades to meet the demand — with most people forced into the private rental sector.
Many of the current ‘generation rent’ will never have the opportunity to own their own homes and soaring rents have put huge financial strain on workers, families and students.
Many young adults are being forced to move back in with their parents if they have that option.
The rental sector can be broadly characterised by poor quality accommodation and no security of tenure.
In Munster, rents are now 19% above their previous high in early 2008. In Cork City, rents have risen by over 8% from the middle of 2018 and the average rent in Q2 of this year was €1336. In the rest of Cork, rents were on average 12.7% higher in the first quarter of 2019 than a year previously.
A survey by the Central Statistics Office in 2018 showed that 61% of renters are at risk of poverty and Cork Simon Community have reported that 27% of people who attend their Soup Run live in private rented accommodation — this shows that after bills and rent are paid there is very little left for people to afford food.
More than 60% of homeless families are headed by lone parents and we have the highest rate of women’s homelessness in Europe – double that of many other EU states.
Families are being forced to live in hotels or emergency accommodation which is not suitable — these are not places where children should be growing up.
In October 2018, Ireland passed a motion to declare a housing emergency, invest in a major programme of public housing construction, take action on rent certainty and security of tenure and to create a legal right to housing. We are still waiting for action on that motion.
Over 81 countries worldwide have enshrined a legal right to housing in their laws or in their constitution including Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Austria and France. It’s time for Ireland to do the same.
Earlier this month we saw harrowing images of a homeless child eating from a cardboard box in Dublin and a homeless man was killed in Cork.
Every month, we are hearing that the numbers of people without homes are rising. We need urgent Government action to address this crisis.
As the General Election 2020 approaches, anyone who is concerned about solving this crisis needs to make it an election issue when the politicians come knocking and when casting their votes.
Laura Harmon was president of the Union of Students in Ireland in 2014/2015. She is a graduate of University College Cork. She was the Head of Mobilisation for Together for Yes.
She is from Baile Bhúirne, Co: Cork. and she will be running for the Seanad NUI panel in the next election as an independent candidate.