Homelessness crisis now hits hard in rural areas as numbers jump by 30pc
More than 1,200 people are now homeless across rural Ireland - a 30pc increase since the beginning of the year, a homeless charity has claimed.
The Peter McVerry Trust said it will be providing housing or homeless services in 13 counties by the end of the year, as the numbers in need of support grows.
A spokesman said there was a lack of services available for vulnerable households outside the main cities, and the problem was likely to worsen in the near-term.
"I think we're starting to see the housing pressure move outside the cities and into the commuter belt and rural areas," a spokesman said.
"The mortgage arrears problem looks like it will be a bigger issue for rural Ireland. As a percentage of all residential mortgages in arrears, it's the rural counties leading the way.
"About 12 months ago we were saying to the Government that it needed to focus on rural homes. The figure [of homelessness] is low relatively speaking, but if it's growing at such a pace it's going to become a big issue because the services aren't there."
The charity used official homelessness figures to calculate the numbers of households living in rural counties, and claimed it had increased by 30pc so far this year to more than 1,200. They outlined their proposals to tackle the crisis at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Offaly.
Among the key actions is adaptation of the Housing First model to rural Ireland where vulnerable people sleeping rough or in homeless accommodation over the long-term - as well as those with addiction or mental health problems - are offered homes and necessary supports.
A key element is the introduction of tele-health supports, where technology would be installed in the property which would allow residents to interact with a counsellor.
"In Vermont in the US, they've adapted a model used in New York to rural areas," the spokesman said. "They put technology in people's homes so they have live links with counsellors. If a counsellor is based in Athlone, for example, they could do counselling in two or three counties."
The charity has also proposed a multi-agency taskforce on rural homelessness to deliver a tailored response.
As a "first step", it should undertake an analysis of the issue, with a focus on the potential impact of the mortgage arrears crisis.
"It is incumbent upon the State to protect people who may reside in a home that is likely to be subject to repossession proceedings," it said.
"The State through the Department of Finance and the Department of Housing should conduct a cost benefit analysis of the possibility of the State directly acquiring tens of thousands of mortgages in the long term to prevent people in these properties becoming homeless and/or requiring years of expensive housing subsidies once they lose their home."
The charity said more affordable and social housing was needed as 38,000 rural households were on council housing waiting lists and there was a need to put in place an empty home network to utilise existing stock of unused homes in towns and villages.