Thursday 14 November 2019

Government should be tackling the homeless crisis, not passing the buck

Fr Peter McVerry wheels comedian Neil Delamere at a charity launch event. Labour TD Joanna Tuffy recently criticised the homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust, saying it should borrow from the Housing Finance Agency to fund social housing
Fr Peter McVerry wheels comedian Neil Delamere at a charity launch event. Labour TD Joanna Tuffy recently criticised the homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust, saying it should borrow from the Housing Finance Agency to fund social housing
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Finally, the identity of the sinister organisations responsible for the homeless crisis has been revealed. No, it's not some cabal of greedy developers, scheming bankers or incompetent TDs. It's the homeless charities.

That's according to Labour TD Joanna Tuffy, who has decided enough is enough and it's time to get tough with those good-for-nothings in the charity sector who are sitting idly by while hundreds of families lose their homes.

All summer long, charitable groups have been whinging and moaning about a so-called housing crisis. How are poor, beleaguered backbench TDs expected to enjoy their two-month summer holidays when all they hear is recrimination whenever they work up the courage to turn on the news in the morning?

Sure, there may be toddlers and their parents sleeping rough in parks, while 1,200 children in nearly 600 families are in emergency accommodation in Dublin, but they'll still be there mid September. What's the big deal? And why can't someone other than the Government do something for once?

Evidently at the end of her tether, Ms Tuffy popped up in an interview at the weekend to lay a few home truths on the goody-two-shoes who are making Government TDs' lives hell.

"Some approved housing bodies are stepping up to the plate and borrowing from the Housing Finance Agency to fund social housing, but two major players have been slower than others - Focus Ireland and the McVerry Trust.

"They are criticising (the Government) but they need to step up to the plate themselves," she said.

According to Ms Tuffy, it is Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust that have the capacity and expertise to solve the homeless crisis - the Government, with its tens of thousands of employees and annual budget of around €70bn, is a distant second.

As a member of a Government that never misses an opportunity to farm out its responsibilities for vulnerable people to the charitable sector, Ms Tuffy appears to now think that it's charities that are running the country and primarily responsible for housing people.

This blatant attempt to divert blame, although pathetic, is entirely predictable. Economist Ronan Lyons was one of many who were warning the Government back in 2011 that a housing crisis in the capital was looming but nobody listened. Now that crisis is out of control and the Government is desperately looking for scapegoats.

Even better if it can kill two birds with one stone and lay the blame on organisations that have been a thorn in its side for years, refusing to remain silent while the Government absolves itself of any responsibility for the current mess.

Regrettably for Ms Tuffy, her half-baked broadside promptly blew up in her face. Responding to the attack yesterday, both charities said there was a perfectly good reason they hadn't borrowed from the Housing Finance Agency - it doesn't make any financial sense.

"The fact of the matter is Peter McVerry Trust can secure funding cheaper and quicker through high street banks and we have done that twice this year to finance acquisition of properties. It would not make any financial sense to take out a loan that takes longer to draw down and which is more expensive to finance," said Peter McVerry Trust chief executive Pat Doyle, comments that were echoed by Focus Ireland.

So, to summarise, a major Government scheme to help provide social housing is a bureaucratic mess with interest rates that are higher than those in the private sector. Meanwhile, Ms Tuffy chooses to direct her ire at charities doing heroic work instead of directing both barrels at her party colleague, and Environment Minister, Alan Kelly - the one who's actually supposed to be setting policies to tackle the crisis.

The cause of this emergency is not a mystery, it's perfectly clear. When the Government relies on the private sector to provide housing to social welfare claimants but refuses to pay anything close to market rates for those houses, how could the result be anything other than families being turfed out on the streets?

In the past three years, rents in Dublin have increased by more than 20pc, but rent allowance rates haven't budged. Yet, incredibly, Ms Tuffy denies this has anything to do with the homeless crisis and instead lambasts charitable groups. Oddly, she has been strangely silent about the fact the Government has failed to come up with any new ideas to address the issue nearly a year after Mr Kelly promised to eradicate it.

Yesterday, we were told the Government was very close to passing legislation that would stop landlords from unfairly keeping deposits. What wasn't mentioned was that this legislation has been knocking around the Dáil since 2012, which tells you something about the priority given to this problem by the people uniquely placed to do something about it.

Meanwhile, one of the other big ideas apparently being considered by government is inspired by Cromwell - the only stumbling block being efforts to come up with a more palatable tagline than "to hell or to Connaught" for a policy to move homeless families out of Dublin.

Does the Labour Party have a death wish? I only ask because that seems to be the only rational explanation for comments like Ms Tuffy's denigrating of the Peter McVerry Trust, set up by a man who has dedicated his entire life to helping the homeless - a legacy recognised by at least some politicians last year when Fr McVerry received the Freedom of the City of Dublin.

Fine Gael and Labour are constantly telling us that they are the only two political parties in the country that are fit to lead. So, where is the leadership when it comes to homelessness, or should we just resign ourselves to more charity bashing as the problem gets worse?

Irish Independent

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