By: Fr. Peter McVerry SJ (Ireland)
In over thirty years of working with homeless people in Ireland, I have never been more frustrated. The frustration of homeless people, particularly in Dublin which has the highest concentration of homeless people, is also at boiling point.
The emergency accommodation available to homeless people in the Dublin region is an insult to homeless people – shared, dormitory, accommodation, where everyone is ‘dumped’ together regardless of their circumstances. People who are drug free have to share a room with active drug users. People who were abused as children have to share a room with strangers. Young vulnerable people are terrified, sharing a room with career criminals. Every day homeless people complain to me that, waking up in the morning, the people sharing their room are gone – along with their money, their phone, their methadone and anything else of value they had. If they refuse to accept this accommodation, they will often be refused welfare payments and left penniless. As most people’s first contact with homeless services is in seeking emergency accommodation, many opt out, refuse to engage further with homeless services and choose to sleep rough because of that experience.
Young homeless people leaving St. Patrick’s Institution, which is Ireland’s only detention centre for 17- 21 year olds, who are at a crossroads in their life, many of whom have spent most of their childhood in State care, are dumped by the State into a drug filled hostel, have to walk the streets all day, with nothing to occupy them. Why are we surprised when they return to drugs or crime?
Due to dire shortage of social housing, the normal route out of homelessness for most people is into the private rented sector. However, that route out of homelessness is now almost impossible. The demand for rented accommodation is increasing, landlords are demanding money up front which homeless people do not have, and the rent subsidy available from the State is so low that, even if they succeed in getting a flat, it will often be sub-standard and unfit for accommodation – paid for by the State.
Many homeless people are demoralised, angry and feel safer sleeping on the street and begging for their income. Their plight is our problem: as the African proverb says: “If your neighbour is hungry, your chickens aren’t safe!”
Fr. Peter McVerry SJ
Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice,