Record high homeless figures
Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry SJ expresses his deep concern with the record number of people experiencing homelessness. The figures have increased from 10,975 people in September 2022 to 11,397 people in October 2022. Speaking to the Irish Times, he said that the Government ban on evictions, which continues until March of next year, should be extended “for two or three years”.
“It worked during Covid,” he said. “The number of homeless people dropped by almost 1,000, partly because of the eviction ban.”
He also called for the regulation of all short-term lettings. “There are 10 times more Airbnbs advertised than there are private residential accommodation, and almost all those Airbnbs are illegal. They do not conform to the regulations or, where necessary, to the planning permission. It should be illegal for anybody to offer an Airbnb if it doesn’t conform to the regulations and it should be illegal for an Airbnb platform to advertise an Airbnb if its doesn’t conform,” he said.
Speaking on the RTE Radio 1’s This Week programme, he remarked how another thing that made a difference to accommodation during the Covid pandemic “was that AirBnbs came back into use as private residential, because there were no tourists coming”.
The other thing that would make a difference when it came to providing accommodation now was vacant properties, he said. “We have vacant homes everywhere, vacant property everywhere. Waterford, in the last 18 months, have brought back 50 to 60 empty buildings back into use.”
“Yet, 16 local authorities brought none back into use or maybe one back into use. If every local authority imitated Waterford and brought 60 units back into use in the next 12 months we’re talking of several thousand units. And then we have modular units. We could have 5,000 modular units in place by the middle of next year,” he said.
Fr McVerry also believed that implementation of the 1973 Kenny report, on controlling the price of building land in the interests of the public good, could “reduce the cost of housing by at least a third, because a third at least and sometimes more of the cost of a house, is the cost of the land on which it is built.” Such land “was, generally speaking, the subject of speculation”.
He said that “what depresses me is that there is not even any discussion at a political level of the Kenny report. It’s been lying there for 50 years.”
He also opposed local residents in any area having a veto over any new emergency accommodation facility being provided in their locality. “If you try to open anything in an area you’re going to meet a lot of opposition. You can consult until the cows come home, the opposition isn’t going to go away,” he said.
He believed “locals should be consulted” and a proposal put “that satisfies a majority of those, but I don’t think they should have a veto on the existence of some sort of facility in their area”.
Fr McVerry agreed that there was “an increasing problem with racism (in Ireland) as people are waiting longer on housing waiting lists.” They believed “that the immigrants and the Ukrainians are coming in and taking the homes that they should have. That’s not true, but that’s the image that is being presented,” he said.
He agreed that, while “some homeless hostels are excellent and people are very happy in them,” many “are really an insult to the dignity of homeless people”. Many “don’t want to go into hostels because they don’t feel safe and they know their property is likely to be robbed,” he said.
“For the dignity of homeless people we ought to be able to provide every homeless person with their own room, or at least their own lockable partition space, where they know they can go to bed, they won’t be assaulted during the night, their property will still be there in the morning in front of them, and if somebody wants to use drugs in the next room or partition space it doesn’t affect them.”
Pat Doyle, CEO of Peter McVerry Trust (the national housing and homeless charity), also reports on the record level homeless figures. He says:
“October’s homeless figures are concerning – it’s difficult to see any increase in the number of people in homelessness. The high number of people presenting as a result of private evictions is further evidence of the need for the winter moratorium on evictions.
The no-fault ban – which only came into effect this month – should reduce the number of people coming into homelessness and gives us a window of opportunity to ramp up delivery.”
“During the time the ban is in place – from November to March – Peter McVerry Trust is aiming to deliver 300 new social homes. These additional homes will allow us to support more people out of homelessness and increase our Housing First programme – which currently has the highest number of people successfully retaining their tenancy in 10 years.”
Pat Doyle concludes:
“We want to make sure that every unit that can be secured for social housing is secured and that we continue to work as quickly and effectively as possible to grow key responses such as Housing First and reduce the number of people in homelessness right across Ireland.”