Tuesday 25 October 2016

Kevin Doyle: Homelessness issue is a threat to Coalition

Published 31/10/2015 | 02:30

Deputy leader of the Labour party Alan Kelly
Deputy leader of the Labour party Alan Kelly

Twice a week, Enda Kenny's personal mobile phone pings with a text message telling him how many people slept rough on the streets of the capital the previous night.

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Yesterday, the figure was 122, including 21 women. The sender of the unsolicited text doesn't expect or even want a reply, although he sometimes gets one.

On St Patrick's Day (while about to meet Barack Obama in Washington) Mr Kenny became conscious of a lull in the messages and sent one of his own asking for an update.

He got an instant response: "Over 100."

Flashback to December 2013, when Mr Kenny told us of a noble idea whereby nobody would be sleeping rough by the time we gathered to mark the centenary of our ancestors laying down their lives to allow us the right to decide the kind of society that we wanted to live in.

Twelve months later, Mr Kenny found himself spending a night on the streets, helping to feed those who couldn't find shelter from the festive season. It was, in the Taoiseach's own words, a "revelation" for him.

"He got emotionally upset. He nearly got sick," recalls the former Lord Mayor Christy Burke, who led the tour of inner-city doorways.

Jonathan Corrie (43) had died less than 100 metres from the gates of Leinster House and the country was, for a moment in time, outraged. It was seen as a sign that the years of austerity hadn't really ended, as we had been told in the Budget a few weeks earlier.

Now, as we approach December 2015, homelessness remains near the top of the agenda - except this time, it's different.

The 2015 version of the housing crisis isn't just about sleeping bags, hostels and addiction services. There is now a perfect storm, whereby people who never thought they could be affected by a 'poor people' issue are to some extent sharing the pain.

Working class and middle class are in this together - albeit for different reasons.

Families who always paid their way, perhaps with a little rent-supplement help from the State, are being booted out by greedy landlords taking advantage of a messed-up market.

Young professionals, once worried about getting on the property ladder, are adjusting their expectations as they move to the suburbs to find cheaper rented accommodation.

And in the background, Kenny's Government is tearing itself apart over how to solve the problem, with an election four months away.

Enter Alan Kelly, the young, energetic deputy leader of the Labour Party with a point to prove.

If nothing else, his refusal to back down over rent certainty has ensured that the issue is front and centre.

The Department of Finance thinks that is an awful idea. Fine Gael sources argue that Kelly has "lost the plot" and needs to compromise with Michael Noonan.

All sides agree supply is the answer but of course that takes time - something this Government no longer has.

Mr Kelly has now staked huge political capital on winning the day, leading to an almighty stalemate that at another point in the political cycle could threaten the entire Coalition.

"He's certainly a pretty blunt kind of guy," Pat Rabbitte said yesterday.

Politicians will tell you that there are no votes in solving the homeless crisis. In fact, Christy Burke says he's "blue in the face telling people that".

But the image of families being turfed out of hotels to make room for the party crowds in the run-up to Christmas will damage the pre-election message of recovery.

Burke recounts just a few of the incidents his volunteers with the Inner City Helping Homeless group have had to deal with in recent weeks.

A woman, her husband and 18 month old baby who is about to undergo two hip operations in the coming weeks living in one room.

A young lady, whose child died from cot death, so upset she fled her B&B after hearing a baby in the next room crying. A woman who called him after finding her 15-year-old with the window chord around his neck.

And in all likelihood, we'll be talking about another death under the Christmas lights in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

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