No more delay on homelessness
Published 16/08/2015 | 02:30
There are drug addicts and alcoholics among the homeless. But they do not account for the more than 100pc increase in the number of homeless families in the greater Dublin area compared with this time last year. Drug addicts and alcoholics make it easier for many of us to take the problem of homelessness less seriously than we ought to, by thinking that they probably brought it on themselves - in most cases they didn't.
But we cannot use that stupid argument to explain the almost 100pc increase so far this year in the number of homeless children. Children are blameless.
Last winter we all suddenly became concerned when Jonathan Corrie froze to death outside Leinster House. But our outrage didn't last long.
Christmas came and there was a lot of publicity about efforts to make sure nobody was left outside over the festive season. Then last week the Dublin Region Homeless Executive revealed that there are 1,185 homeless children in their area - that's double what it was before Jonathan Corrie died.
Brother Kevin Crowley who feeds 600 homeless people every day, reckons this is the worst he has ever experienced. And as we face into another winter he believes we are going to see more deaths on the street.
The Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, blames the local authorities for not cooperating with him. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, says it is a "supply" problem. There aren't enough houses. It's not something that can be cured by throwing more money at it. If it was, the Government would do that. Because there aren't enough house - to buy or rent - the homeless with their rent supplements, can't compete with the commercial renter, and to increase the supplement would be to distort the market. That's the convoluted Catch 22 argument the Government uses to effectively do nothing.
But it won't wash. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As it Gets, people are drowning and the Taoiseach is describing the water.
And there are consequences other than death to worry about. Every one of those 1,185 children who is now homeless is also, by definition, vulnerable. They are shunted from hotels to B&B (which don't really want them in the middle of the lucrative tourist season) or, in the case of one family last week, to sleeping out in the open in a city park. They don't have a room of even a bed of their own to give them the stability to go to school regularly and maybe even enjoy it, and grow up to be contributing members of society. Instead they are insecure and fearful every day and potential targets of unspeakable abuse.
That's not something that those in charge - the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment - can walk away from. They have a moral responsibility not to repeat the sins of the past when we ignored the suffering of a generation of forgotten children. Blaming the system is no longer an acceptable answer.