Monday 20 October 2014

'The level of homelessness in what is a wealthy Dublin is shameful' - Archbishop Diarmuid Martin slams Government

Brian Hutton

Published 23/07/2014 | 13:47

The leader of the Catholic Church in the Republic has launched a blistering attack on the official response to growing homelessness.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has declared social measures to deal with the crisis a widespread failure.

Revealing that a church agency had to turn away 1,000 of the country's poorest people last year because they can't cope with demand, he said the situation has become shameful.

"Homelessness is a sort of thermometer of the overall social climate," he said.

"If that is the case, the current crisis of homelessness in Ireland is in fact an indication of a more widespread failure of social policy."

In a broadside on Government spending and decision-making, the top-ranking churchman said the Department of Social Affairs needed more money and a "more enlightened" policy on housing.

"The level of homelessness in what is a wealthy Dublin is shameful," he added.

"We face one of the paradoxes of many developed societies: we have increased homelessness and we have unoccupied housing; we have people hungry and enormous quantities of food are thrown away daily."

The archbishop made his remarks at the launch of a report into the church's Crosscare agency.

The organisation, a merger of three different groups, helps the homeless, migrants and refugees.

Dr Martin described the agency as the Dublin Diocese social service agency.

In the 12 months up to February, it worked with 5,000 people but was forced to to turn away 1,000 others because it couldn't cope with the demand, the report says.

Many of those seeking help are surviving on food banks and charity hand outs.

Dr Martin said it was time for the Government to switch its focus to the country's most marginalised.

"Having addressed with some success the complex question of working towards Ireland's economic recovery, I believe that from today onwards the overriding challenge of government in this country must be to address in a broad perspective the social consequences of Ireland's economic policy and to identify measures to redress the disadvantage which the vulnerable have suffered," he said.

The archbishop said Crosscare would not be afraid to point out how our public services have failed those who most need them.

The call coincides with new figures from homelessness agency Focus Ireland, which warns one family a day are now becoming homeless here. More than 10,000 people turned to the charity last year - up 25% from 8,000 the previous year.

Signalling a further surge, it has already helped 8,000 people during the first six months of this year alone.

Mark Byrne, acting chief executive of Focus Ireland, said the homelessness crisis is deepening.

"We have families coming to us every day who have lost their home and in many cases the best we can do is get them into a B&B or hotel so they are off the streets," he said.

"This is not acceptable. The Government has said we have reached the limits of austerity and I believe the growing homeless crisis proves this."

Mr Byrne demanded an urgent investment of €500 million to build at least 3,000 new social housing homes immediately.

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Fein's housing spokesman, said there is simply not enough housing available to meet the need for it, while soaring rents are squeezing families out of their homes.

"We need to implement a plan of rent control to stop unabated rent hikes and stabilise rates to a level people can afford," he said.

"This must be done in conjunction with a change to rent assistance schemes in place to make them more flexible in order to protect families from becoming homeless for the sake of a few euro a week."

He added: "Homelessness and the severe housing need in our state will not be solved by well-meaning statements and strategy documents.

"It will be solved by delivering housing for the people who need it"

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