No family should ever have to lose their home, says Focus Ireland manager

Focus Ireland Southwest Manager GERARD SPILLANE writes about how Covid-19 must prove to be a turning point in the battle to end the homeless crisis in Cork, and outlines why the Government must now set a deadline to end homelessness
No family should ever have to lose their home, says Focus Ireland manager

Focus Ireland Southwest Manager Gerard Spillane Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

IT’S been a tough year for the people of Cork dealing with Covid-19, but imagine the added heartbreak of being homeless?
Focus Ireland has been working harder than ever in 2020 supporting 570 households in Cork who are homeless or at risk of losing their home. During the year we have also helped 20 households in Cork to move out of homelessness with the support of the state and local authorities.

Focus Ireland has been based in Cork since 2007 and from our South Mall office dedicated colleagues work on a monthly basis offering a variety of services including advice and information, tenancy resettlement and youth services. We provide 60 homes locally and the plan is to increase this figure in the years ahead.

None of us would ever wish for this pandemic but we must make sure that Covid-19 is a real turning point in the battle to end homelessness. Our Founder Sr Stanislaus Kennedy in 1987, which was the International Year of Homelessness, predicted that within six or seven years, we would end long-term homelessness. It could have happened, except that governments reneged on commitments to provide houses. And so the numbers of people experiencing homelessness in Cork and nationwide grew up until it was way beyond crisis.

However, it is really positive that the number of people now homeless is the lowest it has been for a few years and. The total number of adults who are officially homeless in Cork is 402 which is lower than this time last year. I would stress though there is much work still to be done.

The people of Cork know the pain of a recession and parts of the city have struggled to recover since the economic downturn of the 80s. Many people are again suffering job losses which means every action needs to be taken to ensure we not only stop the numbers homeless rising again.

While building stalled in 2020 there are still numerous cranes across Cork but unfortunately its offices and hotels that are being built as opposed to affordable housing.

There is an increase in the number of families losing their homes due to economic reasons. Picture: Stock
There is an increase in the number of families losing their homes due to economic reasons. Picture: Stock

In addition, the lack of one bed bedroom apartments is also a serious contributor to the number of homeless adults, particularly single people. An offset of the crisis in the city is that many individuals and families are now being forced out of the city, to towns such as Mallow, Middleton and Cobh where rents are also increasing in the county.

No family should ever have to go through the trauma of losing their home and being homeless. No child should ever be born into homelessness.  Families and individuals lose their homes as they can’t afford to pay the rent or the house is sold or repossessed. They have been called ‘The New Homeless’. That is the people who become homeless for purely economic reasons. I believe that, as a country, we have a duty to look after all our citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable. We must cherish all our children equally and ensure that no child suffers from being homeless.

As I write this, Cork is still dealing with the Covid-19 public health emergency and Focus Ireland is working more closely than ever with the State and partner organisations to protect people who are homeless.

Welcome steps, such as the temporary ban on evictions and the rent freeze, had a big impact in cutting the numbers becoming homeless.

We have helped to move record numbers of families and individuals out of homelessness in this period.

This work must continue.

As the country opens up, we must not let homelessness be a part of our new normal. We need to move on from short-term measures and hubs to providing more social and affordable rental housing.

As we enter the new year the Government must act in 2021 upon the following commitments made in the Programme for Government which Focus Ireland was calling for in recent years

- Develop a youth homelessness strategy.

- Hold a referendum on housing.

- Establish a housing commission to help deliver more long-term policy for delivering housing in Ireland.

Focus Ireland hopes to work with the Government to inform these key pieces of work and we also would like to see the development of a specific family homelessness strategy to help move from managing this crisis towards ending it.

Focus Ireland is also set to soon launch a campaign calling on the Government to set a deadline to end homelessness. This commitment to a deadline to end homelessness must be backed up by a realistic plan and timeline to achieve this.

We believe this is important as no country has ever managed a significant reduction in homelessness without having a firm commitment to ending it.

When there was a previous Government commitment to ending long-term homelessness by 2010 this led to the lowest ever level of homelessness in Ireland.

That success was swept away by the economic crisis. We can, and must, do better next time. The people of Cork deserve it.

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