Having a home is a basic human right that thousands in our State are denied
Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30
The housing and homeless crisis has become so critical, affecting every region and community around Ireland, that it is now a red-line issue.
It is nearly a month since the election took place and we still don't have a government.
We still don't have a viable and comprehensive plan to get a grip on the growing crisis. We still have nothing to offer people stuck in emergency accommodation, or who have no option but to sleep rough simply because they cannot access the housing they need to make a home.
Many have been waiting for months on end for some hope, some indication that the State cares.
The experience of the Simon Communities tells us that the longer people are homeless the greater the impact on their health and well-being.
The onus is on every newly elected TD to try to form a government that can address this crisis without delay. We have a dysfunctional housing market that continues to push more and more people into the trauma of homelessness. This can and must be prevented. It demands unwavering commitment, tenacious political will and strong leadership.
The UN Special Rapporteur on housing wrote that "homelessness is an extreme violation of the rights to adequate housing and non-discrimination and often also a violation of the rights to life, to security of person, to health, to protection of the home and family, and to freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment. However, it has not been addressed with the urgency and priority that ought to be accorded to so widespread and severe a violation of human rights."
The Simon Communities see these violations every day when people come knocking on our doors because this State has failed them.
Homelessness takes many forms - some people are forced to sleep on the street or stay in emergency accommodation, others are 'hidden homeless', isolated and living in poor housing conditions without basic services and security of tenure.
It is a scandal that there are local authority houses and State-owned properties lying empty around the country when there are men, women and children sleeping on the street or stuck in emergency accommodation. It's outrageous for housing to remain vacant for months on end while maintenance work is undertaken.
These empty homes make a mockery of the State's response to the housing and homeless crisis.
The Simon Communities see the heart-breaking impact that rising rents and a contracting housing supply are having every day on people and families on low incomes and those in receipt of rent supplement; they can no longer afford to pay the rent to keep a roof over their heads.
People are excluded from the private rental market and without any other housing options homelessness is inevitable. People and families are trapped in emergency accommodation for months on end with the often overwhelming stress and trauma.
Homelessness is a complex issue that cannot be solved by housing alone, but it is the linchpin.
Moving into permanent housing immediately offers people the space, security and confidence to begin effectively addressing all of the other issues that pushed them into homelessness.
The alternative - remaining trapped in emergency accommodation for far too long because there is nowhere else to go - amplifies the problem, resulting in a needlessly difficult and lengthy journey to a new home.
There is not enough social housing available for the minimum of 90,000 people on the social housing waiting list.
The current Social Housing Strategy is dependent on the private sector and yet the number of private rental units is at the lowest level on record.
Without access to affordable housing with visiting support in the short-term, the housing and homeless crisis will deepen, bringing more despair and heartbreak to thousands more people. We are asking those elected to hear what we are saying: forming a government to solve this crisis must be a top priority.
The extent of the crisis demands that the new Cabinet includes a senior Minister for Housing. This minister must have full authority to address the crisis with the support and resources needed.
It demands someone that has a seat and a vote at the Cabinet table, who will act immediately in addressing homelessness and housing. The new Programme for Government must include policies to eliminate long-term homelessness and rough sleeping with clear goals, targets and timelines. People who are homeless must now be prioritised as having the greatest housing need.
We need a comprehensive plan for the private rented sector to ensure greater affordability, stability and security. Local authorities must get back into the business of building and delivering social housing on the scale required. The wholly inadequate rent supplement payments, which are supposed to address the chronic shortage of social housing, must be increased. The current limits are not only pushing people into homelessness but also preventing people from leaving homelessness behind them.
According to the report from the UN Special Rapporteur on housing, the common denominator of homelessness is government policies that are inconsistent with human rights. We need to agree that everyone is entitled to an affordable, safe and secure home; that no man, woman or child should be homeless. We know the solutions that work, we now urgently need a courageous new government whose very first job will be to make sure those solutions are implemented urgently. Too many people have been neglected for far too long. They can wait no longer.
Niamh Randall is national spokesperson for the Simon Communities