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Friday 6 December 2019

'Middle-income families caught in homeless crisis': McVerry

Peter McVerry. Photo: Mark Condren
Peter McVerry. Photo: Mark Condren
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

A NEW class of homeless people are being forced on to the nation's streets.

"We are now seeing working and middle-income families who never thought for a moment they would be in this situation," homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry told the Sunday Independent.

"At the moment there are 184 families living in hotel rooms because there is no more emergency accommodation for them. This problem is now too big to ignore. It's costing the Government a fortune. Some of them are costing up to €1,000 a month. They might as well be paying a mortgage."

Fr McVerry said the only way the Government will tackle the problem is by being embarrassed into action by the harrowing individual stories of the degrading situations people are now being forced to live in.

"I'm talking about whole families living in one hotel room. A parent and maybe two children. With usually no access to cooking facilities and they're living on the outskirts of town and getting the children to and from school is a problem," he added.

"People who can no longer afford to pay their rent. I'm seeing guys coming in who have qualifications, leaving cert qualifications too. Our traditional image of homelessness is of drug users and people with mental health problems who have convictions but the new homeless are working class people some are even middle class people in lower-paid jobs. Ordinary people, not drug users or drinkers.

"For each and every one of these people it is a personal tragedy."

Fr McVerry has countless individual stories of those now turning up at his inner-city clinic every day.

"One man came into me in a wheelchair who was told there was no accommodation for him that night, another homeless man was on crutches, another had spent six months in an intensive drug treatment programme where he had his addiction problems addressed only to be placed in emergency accommodation with a dorm full of drug-users. Why did we bother putting him through the damn programme in the first place? It is immoral."

It is now estimated that there are more than 5,000 homeless people across the country, and Fr McVerry estimates the State would have to spend €200m to address the deepening crisis on our streets.

Fr McVerry added: "Enda Kenny doesn't need to meet me to see what's happening. Unless he has his head in cloud cuckoo land. Everyone knows how bad this is. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to move politicians to act is to embarrass them. Highlight the cases of people's plight, the situations people are being forced to live in."

Fr McVerry is calling for new legislation that would make it illegal for the State not to provide a roof over a person's head.

This would be an extension of the 1991 Childcare Act, under which the Government is obliged to provide safe accommodation for children.

"We need to extend that to every one. It is a basic human right," he said.

Sunday Independent

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