Homelessness and Human Rights

When is a promise not a promise?  When it's made by the Irish government.  Ireland failed to ratify or legislate for the right to housing despite undertaking to do so by signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1953.  Instead it promoted housing 'development' as a profiteering activity.  The result: there are plenty of houses, but people can't afford to be in them.  The speculators who fuelled the housing bubble are still being rewarded for their failures.  For example, Fintan O' Toole notes the recent "obscene payment of a billion dollars to unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders" and Nama Wine Lake reports the NAMA deal "which appears to wipe out any legacy liability on the part of the Dublin Docklands Development Agency for...the dumbest property development gambles in Irish history".

Meanwhile over 300,000 homes, "more than double the official estimate", are lying empty around the country according to the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.  "If you take the upper end of these figures, it suggests more than 18% of the state’s houses are empty compared with 7.3% in Europe and 3.4% in Britain".  And the number of Ghost estates, where most or all the houses are empty, "has risen from 2,846 last year to 2,881 this year".

But while top property developers are being bailed out, smaller fish are not.  Threshold has told The Irish Examiner that "thousands of tenants face eviction as landlords who bought properties on the buy-to-let market at the height of the boom default on mortgages".  It fears that
"many of the 500,000 people in the private rental sector could be the victims of a new wave of repossessions, as receivers handling repossessed properties for the banks throw out tenants with little or no notice". 
Despite the rights of tenants with established tenancies Threshold has witnessed "a growing number of cases before the courts where tenants’ legal protections under the Residential Tenancies Act have been flagrantly ignored".

Street homelessness rises by as much as 30%
On the streets the results are not yet officially being recognised while we wait for the results of the 2011 census.  The housing charity the Dublin Simon Community has eye witness evidence though of "a 20% growth in the number of people presenting to their services" and especially to their Rough Sleeper Teamwhich has seen an increase of "over 30% in the last 18 months".  According to Sam McGuinness, CEO of Dublin Simon Community, "our figures show an increase every quarter, throughout 2009 and right into 2010.  Last year 2,450 people accessed all our services and in the first six months of 2010 we have already worked with over 1,800 people."

The human cost is shocking.  Cork Simon conducted a survey of 188 people using their project and found that
66% had an underlying mental health problem, 59% had an underlying physical health problem and while 51% required medical treatment during the week of the study, 8% had attempted suicide in the previous six months.
A social system in meltdown, so what is the government going to do?
There is a high cost to the current policy of keeping homeless families in inadequate, unsuitable and expensive temporary housing while making private landlords rich at the expense of the state.  Focus Ireland, the housing charity, has estimated that "it currently costs €19.5m per year to provide emergency or transitional accommodation to 987 Dublin households- €12.5m per year".  They have also found that the numbers of households on local authority waiting lists rose from 56,000 to just under 100,000 in 2010 increasing the payments of  Rent Supplement to 91,100 and Mortgage Interest Relief to a further 17,000 families with "more than 36,000 households in mortgage arrears". 

The government meanwhile has claimed that it has increased direct funding to housing charities, but Focus notes that "many voluntary homeless service providers experienced significant reductions in funding levels in 2010 as a result of HSE cuts and reductions in charitable donations".

Housing Minister absent for budget, then appointed with no vote
Focus Ireland had a detailed pre-budget submission asking for a commitment to maintain funding levels and change housing policies for cheaper and more humane alternatives.  But the government failed to appoint a Housing Minister before the budget so the issues remained  unaddressed.  After lobbying by Focus Ireland a minister was finally appointed this week, but has no vote in cabinet.  So called 'super junior' minister Jan O'Sullivan has pledged to have her voice heard in Cabinet saying that "being at the table gives me more opportunity to have my voice there when decisions are being made"  Good intentions but in reality "I don't have voting rights" she said.

A pre-election pledge from the Simon Community signed by all political parties, including the two now in government,  looks unlikely to be fulfilled. 
"If elected to government we will ensure that tackling homelessness will be one of our top priorities. We believe in people and pledge to work with all organizations to ensure that housing, healthcare and other supports are available to everyone at risk of or experiencing homelessness.’
So another firm promise on housing.  Job done.


To donate to the Simon Community go to their website.

 For advice or help on housing rights contact Threshold

For advice on homelessness see FocusIreland


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