Monday 26 September 2016

Chronic housing crisis is still going strong a century on

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

In 1916, Dublin was in the midst of a housing crisis. Due to a chronic housing shortage, tens of thousands of families were crowded into unsafe and unsanitary tenement accommodation.

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It wasn't unusual for an entire family to occupy one room. Most people rented their homes, and due to the mismatch between supply and demand, rents were high and evictions were common.

Overcrowding and the prevalence of communicable diseases like TB resulted in high mortality rates.

For men affected by this crisis, Backlane Hostel provided a beacon of hope.

The St Vincent De Paul Free Night Shelter for Homeless Catholic Men, as it was then called, opened its doors on Back Lane near Christchurch in May 1915.

On a daily basis, the hostel offered free dormitory-style accommodation, basic meals and supports to 140 men who were at risk of sleeping rough. (Contrary to its name, Backlane Hostel did not restrict its services to Catholics.)

Over the years, Backlane has evolved in line with State policies regarding homelessness, and to meet the changing needs of its client group. For instance, single bedrooms have replaced dormitory-style accommodation, and the service currently accommodates 60 rather than 140 men.

In 2002, Depaul began managing the hostel, in partnership with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and the hostel is now simply known as Backlane.

However, its basic function has remained the same: providing shelter and supports to men who lack the means to access more permanent accommodation.

Today, Dublin is grappling with a housing crisis that, while perhaps less severe, echoes that of a century earlier.

Backlane Hostel continues to be a refuge for men experiencing homelessness in Dublin, many of whom have acute and complex support needs including mental and physical illness, and addiction.

Backlane Hostel is always open and full 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and there is a waiting list to get in.

Ireland is a relatively rich country, and the fastest-growing economy in Europe, and yet a homeless hostel that was established to deal with a housing crisis 100 years ago continues to operate at full capacity today.

As a society we must ask ourselves why we have let this happen.

Why does the need for homeless accommodation still exist?

Where have we gone wrong?

This Easter morning, 1,830 children will wake up in homeless accommodation. Through no fault of their own, these children's basic rights, freedoms and opportunities are at risk.

Depaul envisions a society where the need for homeless accommodation does not exist, where all people in Ireland have a place to call home and a stake in their community.

We urge the Government to appropriate this vision.

We must tackle the root causes of homelessness once and for all, by implementing measures to prevent people from becoming homeless and providing housing led-solutions to move people away from homelessness.

Depaul calls for an increase in rent supplement levels, more social and affordable housing provision, and immediate activation of the Vacant Site Levy.

We tirelessly advocate for Housing First. It is more effective to house people who are homeless not in hostels but in homes that they can call their own and we look forward to the day when our housing stock is sufficient to truly realise this model.

The year 2116 should not echo 2016.

To donate or find out more about Depaul and Backlane Hostel, go to

Kerry Anthony is CEO of Depaul

Irish Independent

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