Thursday 23 November 2017

Rural homeless crisis as sheds used for shelter

And in Dublin another rough sleeper is found dead just a short distance from Leinster House

STRUGGLE: Niamh Randall has warned of massive crisis
STRUGGLE: Niamh Randall has warned of massive crisis

Claire McCormack

A hidden homeless crisis is deepening in rural Ireland, charities on the frontline have warned.

The warning came as another homeless man was found dead in the heart of the capital.

The body of man who had been sleeping rough was found at 7am on Friday morning on Dawson Lane - just a few hundred yards from where homeless man Jonathan Corrie was found dead on Molesworth Street last year.

It is understood the unidentified man had been sleeping rough in the capital for a number of months.

He is said to have engaged with homeless services in Dublin and had been in contact with them in recent days.

It is understood the man had been dead for a number of hours before his body was discovered.

Pat Doyle, CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, said all agencies must redouble their efforts to tackle homelessness head on. He warned that, with winter approaching, the risks for those sleeping rough are even greater.

His plea came as the homeless crisis in rural Ireland has deepened. Hundred of people of no fixed abode are couch-surfing with friends and relatives.

Those less fortunate are sleeping in wheelie bins, hay sheds and cars across the countryside

From Sligo and Donegal to Athlone and Portlaoise, the Simon Community says homelessness in rural Ireland is growing at similar rates to urban areas.

However, gathering accurate numbers is proving difficult.

The latest national emergency accommodation figures, released by the Department of Environment, show that 4,868 people are in emergency homeless accommodation nationally.

This includes 707 families with 1,496 children and 2,413 single people.

Despite these figures, experts say rural homelessness remains unexplored.

Niamh Randall, national spokesperson for the Simon Communities, says the main challenge is locating them.

"Rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg, there's lots more difficulty going on and it's all this hidden homelessness, like people couch-surfing or staying on a floor, and we see that a lot more in rural areas," she said.

"We only know the figures in terms of those who are presenting at services, but there is a hidden population who are very vulnerable, very much at risk and can be really struggling," she said.

Ms Randall pointed out that some rural dwellers eat on the cheap and skimp on light and electricity to keep a roof over their head.

Fear of discrimination is also a massive problem for homeless individuals in close-knit rural communities.

"It's a double-edged sword. When neighbours discover somebody is in crisis, they pull together and give them a dig out, but on the other side, the sense of shame and stigma they feel can prevent them from revealing the truth," said Ms Randall.

The fallout from this leaves many roaming the countryside seeking shelter.

"They will look for anywhere that means they are in out of the cold and the rain and so they feel safe whether it's rough sleeping, staying in a shed or staying in squats," she said.

A dearth of homeless services, drug and alcohol services and mental health services is another massive challenge for villages and towns outside Dublin and the eastern commuter belt.

Even if these services do exist, transport to them is another major barrier.

As a result, some homeless are migrating towards Dublin and other urban areas to access help.

"We need responses to homelessness to be nationally driven but locally delivered. We must support people to remain in their communities where they have support from friends and family," said Ms Randall, adding that what works in Dublin may not work in the rural midlands.

The Simon Community claims the only way to stem this crisis is by implementing the housing first model - which focuses on the immediate provision of long-term accommodation with supports and services built around the needs of each individual.

The charity is also calling for an increase in rent supplements, coupled with new measures around rent to help keep people in private rented accommodation.

Meanwhile, the Peter McVerry Trust say it is on track to expand services to Limerick where it intends to offer 20 new apartments to homeless individuals or couples without children over the next six months - seven before Christmas and a further 13 in the early months of 2016.

Funding for the new units was recently approved by the Government as part of a €13m project to deliver 110 social housing units in the area.

Sunday Independent

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