Out On The Streets in Ireland

 

That’s how people see homelessness in Ireland isn’t it?

The Homeless – they live on the streets, have drug and alcohol issues and possibly mental health issues, they clutter up the nice streets, they smell, they commit petty street crime and – they’re a bloody nuisance.

But thank God there’s only a few of them – throw them a few coppers and your conscience is salved, and sure won’t all those charities take care of them, The Simon [1] The Vincent De Paul [2] anyway there’s loads of hostels they could go to, loads of “services” because moving beneath the surface of the superficial conscience salving few coppers that you threw them – is another thought – it’s their own fault.

“Those who were least well off before the economic crisis remain so, and their difficulties have been worsened due to cutbacks to the supports and services on which they rely. Those who have lost jobs, had business failures, seen significant falls in their income or are affected by over-indebtedness require supports in the short, medium and longer term to ensure that they are prevented from falling into long term unemployment and poverty. [3]

Niamh Randall, National Spokesperson for the Simon Communities, said that more and more people are turning to the Simon Communities across the country for support.

“There are now over 90,000 people on the social housing waiting lists; rents are rapidly increasing all around the country at the same time as the numbers of properties available to rent are decreasing. People on low incomes are effectively being priced out of the market. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure people in need have access to housing so they do not become homeless in the first place and so they can move out of homelessness, when it does happen, as quickly as possible.” (emphasis added) [3]

On Thursday 5th June a protest was held – a Sleep Out – outside the offices of Dun Laoghaire – Rathdown Council Offices – I was there.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD of People Before Profit was at the forefront of this protest – the issue was Social Housing, or rather the lack of Social Housing.

“Richard Boyd Barrett TD said: “In 2011 the government abandoned the direct provision of social housing and farmed out housing to private landlords. Now that landlords can get higher rents on the open market they are pulling out of these deals and families are being forced into homelessness. Rents are rocketing and with no investment in social housing the crisis is spiralling out of control.”

I don’t believe there is anyone either in Ireland or in the western world who doesn’t know that we had a “housing crisis” though more correctly a “housing crash” here in Ireland – a recession of epic proportions that literally brought this tiny inconsequential country on the periphery of Europe to the brink of economic destruction – but we were “saved” by the EU and the IMF – they came charging into the rescue and bailed us out. Then we voted for those who made promises that they had no intention of keeping.

 

Labour said: “The fiscal strategy set out in the EU-IMF deal . . . involves excessive austerity, which will put growth at risk”. That was the strategy they implemented and they take pride in that! Where was the mandate

There was no mandate for taking in taxation from the poorest 10 per cent of the population the same proportion of their income as being taken from the richest 10 per cent – this was achieved via the VAT increase in the 2012 budget, even though the USC was removed from incomes between €4,004 and €10,036.

There was no mandate for the cuts in child benefit for the third and subsequent children and Labour was adamant there would be no cuts in child benefit at all. There was no mandate for cutting the disability allowance. No mandate for cuts to rent supplements. No mandate for the changes in PRSI that impact most on the working poor. No mandate for a property tax that is imposed irrespective of income. No mandate for the increase in prescription drug charges. And so much else.” [4] (emphasis added)

We made a pact with the devil – or rather our political leaders at that time on our behalf made a pact with the devil. Then we kicked them out of office and………….same shoite, different day – or different devils.

As it turned out – it wasn’t us – The People – that our political elite decided needed our arses pulled out of the fire, it was the very ones who had caused and precipitated this crisis – the bankers, the developers, politicians, financiers, and then our own “rescuers” decided to make the deal with the devil work.

“National pension fund plundered

The Irish population is paying for the repeated saving of the financial sector through brutal austerity. Ireland had to co-finance its own “rescue” by €17.5 billion, €10 billion of which were taken from the public pension fund NPRF, originally set up to secure Irish pensions in the future. The fund’s money was used for direct bank recapitalization (7). In late 2013, the government decided to entirely transform it into an investment fund, safeguarding future pensions is no longer a priority (8). Furthermore, the population was hit hard by six (?) years of austerity measures: The VAT was increased to 23 percent, child benefits were lowered, unemployment allowances for young people cut in half (9) and tuition fees tripled to 2,500 Euros (10). Altogether, over €28 billion have been squeezed out of Irish society since 2008 (11).” [5] (emphasis added)

They got the rescue – we got the bill.

A bill we are still paying, and will be expected to continue paying until every last man, woman and child for the next two generations of Irish people has been squeezed dry.

“Ending the bailout is “not the end of the road”. Ireland has already announced a new round of spending cuts and tax rises for next year, in the 2014 budget announced recently. Noonan was clear that further cuts lie ahead if Ireland is to lower its deficit to 3% by 2015.”

“This isn’t the end of the road. This is a very significant milestone on the road…But we must continue with the same types of policies.” (emphasis added) [6]

Till we are a people so demoralised, so disenfranchised, so browbeaten into submission that we are no longer a people, no longer free citizens of a free Republic – we are merely pawns, utilities, economic units valued only for our usefulness as dupes, as a means to an end – to ensure that the gravy train keeps rolling, that those who have continue to have – and those who have not – never ever get to have – anything – including a roof over their heads – the dignity that every human being is entitled to – a place to call home.

“Housing: a new philosophy

A series of publications by the economist Professor PJ Drudy of Trinity College have offered an interesting new approach to how Irish society views housing. In his paper at a 2005 Social Policy Conference, in a co-authored book with Michael Punch -entitled Out of Reach (2005) – and in a chapter in the Social Policy in Ireland book (Drudy, 2006) he has outlined these views.

The essence of Professor Drudy’s proposal is to view housing as a home rather than as a market commodity. In his conference paper Professor Drudy stated that we should “place the emphasis on housing as a home – shelter, a place to stay, to feel secure, to build a base, find an identity and participate in a community and society”.

Therefore he continued: “housing thus becomes a central feature of ‘development’ – a process not simply comprising increases in economic growth, but containing positive actions to improve the quality of life and wellbeing for all” (2005: 44).

In concluding his paper, Drudy suggested that Irish society now needs to address “a fundamental philosophical question: is it the purpose of a housing system to provide investment, speculative or capital gains for those with the necessary resources or should the critical aim be to provide a home as a right for all citizens?” (2004: 46).

In his view it is time now for Ireland to move away from seeing housing as a commodity to be traded on the market like any other tradable commodity; and to accept the latter opinion that views housing as a social requirement like health services or education.” [7]

I started off by saying that “The Homeless ” brings to mind a certain type – a certain image – a myth that we can call up to salve our consciences with – as being – a small problem that affects only a very small very particular section of our society – with that underlying thread weaving its way through the narrative – “it’s really their own fault”.

Here are the facts.

“About Homelessness

Homelessness can mean sleeping rough, staying in emergency hostels or shelters, staying in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation or staying with friends and relatives when there is nowhere else to go. Homelessness is all of these things. For people experiencing homelessness it is about a lack of security, a lack of belonging and often about being cold, sick and isolated.The current economic climate means more people are at risk of homelessness than ever before with further cut backs in health, education, welfare services and training more people will become homeless and turn to the Simon Communities for support.” [8] (emphasis added)

According to the Simon Community in 2011 these were the figures for “Homelessnes” or in “Housing Need” – figures for 2005 in brackets. [9]

Household Homelessness – 2,348 (2,399)

Living in Unfit Accommodation – 1,708 (1,725)

Living in Overcrowded Accommodation – 4,594 (4,122) – increase of 475

Involuntarily Sharing – 8,834 (3,375) – increase of 5,459 – almost 62% (5,477)

Not reasonably able to meet the cost of Accommodation – 65,643 (25,045) – an increase of 40,598 – almost a 62% increase. (40,698)

Are they on the streets? No – not all of them – what they are is caught in a trap – they are “unable to provide accommodation from their own means” which is how one qualifies for either Social Housing [10] or if none is available (which it isn’t) for Rent Supplement [11] in order to pay for private accommodation while waiting for your turn, your number to come up to the top of the list – and that list would be the Housing List – and every Local Authority, City and County Council has its own “List”

Here they are – a breakdown of every single city and county council’s numbers. These figures are from 2011 – but I seriously doubt if those numbers have gone down appreciably in the last three years.

“Housing Needs Assessment 2011 – Background

In February 2011 housing authorities were directed by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government1 to carry out an assessment of need existing at 31st March, 2011. Detailed guidance was issued by the Department to assist authorities in carrying out the assessment and in order to insure as much consistency as possible across authorities. This was to be a ‘snap-shot’ assessment based on an extract of data from each housing authority in respect of each household that has been approved for social housing support at 31st March, 2011.

The Housing [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act, 2009 provides for a new process of housing assessment with effect from 1st April, 2011. This Assessment of Housing Need gives a national picture of the level of housing need across the country as these new regulations come into effect.”

For the vast majority of Irish people on these “Housing Lists” they are out of options, though there are those in this country who would take the attitude “well get a job and buy your own house

“Net Housing Need

The net housing need figure at present shows that 98,318 households were in need of social housing support at 31st March 2011. Table 1 shows that the largest category of need by far was those unable to meet the cost of accommodation – accounting for about two-thirds (66.8%) of households, with the next biggest category of need, medical and compassion reasons, accounting for one-tenth of households (9.7%) and this was followed by those involuntary sharing (8.7%). Older persons and homeless households respectively account for just over 2 per cent of need, while Traveller families, unfit accommodation and people with a disability each accounted for less than 2% of the country’s net housing need.” (emphasis added)

I look forward to the release of the Report for 2014 – after all – it is now three years since that last one.

In order to buy a home of your own – you need a job – and a job that pays enough, not only to service a mortgage, but with enough left over each month to feed, clothe and take care of yourself and your family, pay your bills, heat that house, pay a doctor if one of your kids gets sick, pay the Household Charge/Property Tax on that new home of yours, in fact, being able to insert the key into the front door of your own home and walk in, is only the beginning – because even if you manage by some miracle to “get a mortgage” every state support (what little there is) gets withdrawn – you may finally have a roof over your head – but that roof is both a blessing and a curse.

There is a phenomenon called the working poor [12] – there are those for whom working is actually more of a trap than not working, for whom the only jobs, of the few that are available are so badly paid, so precarious and so demoralising that working actually causes and creates more stress, more anxiety – if that was even possible.

You would have to find yourself a permanent well paid and secure job in order to be able to breathe out.

The chances of getting that dream permanent job – the one that will get you that magic mortgage and last long enough – 20 – 25 years – to keep paying that mortgage are slim to none, though I wouldn’t count on being able to afford little luxuries – like food – while you are paying that mortgage.

You are now – truly on your own – and the hawks are ever circling – the spectre of unemployment waits brooding in the wings – the government churns out ever more “charges” ever more “penalties” ever more “cuts” and each one is designed to squeeze you, to wring every last cent out of you they can, as they work tirelessly and feverishly to – rescue those who need the least amount of rescuing – the ones who caused all this in first place.

The Irish People are being held to ransom by bankers, by politicians, the EU – we are paying for the privilege of being disenfranchised, kept in penury, and kept in a prison of poverty, of housing insecurity, of ongoing and never-ending worry, stress and anxiety.

They also live in fear – of saying the wrong thing to “officials” of one of these “officials” some petty little civil servant not liking the look of us – not liking our “attitude” deliberately making any interaction with “officialdom” as stressful, as tortuous as possibly – of having your “application” dealt with at the whim, the mood, of whoever you are unfortunate enough to encounter. This was something that came up over and over again from the people sleeping on the street outside Dun Laoighre- Rathdown Council offices – fear.

Within all these government departments are petty little tyrants, bullies and sneering “civil servants” who treat their fellow citizens with contempt, derision and hostility. This I know from personal experience – a story for another time.

All this, so that our political elite can go to Europe and kiss EU ass and assure them that the ones who robbed and are robbing this country blind can keep doing just that.

Our politicians have assured the EU that Ireland will pay its “Debt” – except – this is not our debt – and this “debt” is being paid on the backs of the Irish people – this “debt” is being paid in devastated lives, hungry children, sick and frail elderly people, homeless men women and children, and in some cases the actual life blood of Irish men – for some – the combined pressures of unemployment, housing insecurity, the anxiety of feeling useless, powerless and trapped leads so many to take their own lives. [13]

“3.4 Suicide and economic adversity

Economic adversity and recession specifically has been shown to result in an increase in suicide rates59. Studies have also shown that factors in the current economic crisis, such as falling stock prices, increased bankruptcies and housing insecurity (including evictions and the anticipated loss of a home), and higher interest rates are all associated with increased suicide risk60,61. People who are unemployed are two-three times more likely to die by suicide than people in employment62.

A recent Irish study has shown that during the boom years of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ male and female rates of suicide and undetermined death were stable during 1996-2006, while suicide among unemployed men increased. Unemployment was associated with a 2-3 fold risk of suicide in men and a 4-6 fold increased risk in women63.”

Of all these factors – a roof over your head – place to call your own – for you and your family gives you an anchor, a safe haven, a sense of security from which you can direct the course of your own life – shelter from the storms raging outside, protect your family and weather those storms – because at least you can say – “well at least we have a roof over our heads” we can get through anything as long as we have that.

Except – there are no roofs to be had – there is no shelter from the raging storms – there are no safe harbours, no shelter to be had – and no way to get any of those things.

Because we now live in a country where “The People” don’t matter – where “The People” are now subsidiary to policy – and the current policy?

Paying a debt incurred by the greedy avaricious and venal to maintain a system that ensures that who have and have always had, continue to do so – and in order to do that – take it from those who have nothing.

The very thing that caused this crisis in the first place – the housing bubble? The movers and shakers are starting to inflate it again. Rents are going up – house prices are going up – and Rent Supplement is going down – and the criteria for becoming eligible is getting more and more stringent – less and less flexible and has absolutely nothing to do with the actually lived reality of most people’s lives.

A case in point is the father who was refused Rent Supplement as a parent and classified as “single” by the Department of Social Protection even though he has four children, and has nowhere not only for himself to live, but is being deliberately prevented from being able to parent his own children including providing accommodation for them when they are with him.

See – “Money Makes the World Go Round………Not Ideology….Feminism is Just Along for the Ride”

Our current government is actually encouraging this – by doing exactly what the last government did – standing by and sanctioning the same corrupt and discredited policies, by taking the same cynical and laissez faire attitude to the practices of the bankers, the gombeens, the chancers, the corrupt and the venal so that once more they can proliferate.

The crisis ripped away the safety net for the Irish people – but at least it was there – provisionally – there is no safety net now – it is gone – yet here we are – getting back up on the trapeze – or being forced back up onto that trapeze.

It is time to end this circus – time to rip down the big top – time to say enough. It is time for this circus to leave town.

The night before, on Wednesday 4th June 2014 I attended a People Before Profit meeting in Wynne’s Hotel in Dublin city centre – it was by way of being a celebration of the electoral success achieved by PBP in the recent council elections. What is clear is that there is a growing sense of anger, of a people who have had enough, the results indicate that the coming election in 2016 may change the face of Irish politics forever.

I started this article by saying that there is a perception of what it is to be homeless, that “being homeless” inspires certain images, brings to mind certain pictures of “the homeless”

Nothing could be further from the truth – yes there are those who literally have no place to go, and yes the vast majority of those who fit that profile of the homeless are men.

“Over 60 per cent of the persons enumerated as part of the homeless count were in the Dublin region on Census Night. Of the 2,375 people enumerated in Dublin, just over two thirds or 1,590 were male. The next largest region was the South East. Of the 403 homeless persons enumerated in this region, 216 were male.”

“Among the 3,351 homeless persons aged 15 and over, two thirds were single compared with 42 per cent for the general population. Some 189 homeless persons were either married or re-married, representing just under 6 per cent of the group. In contrast, almost 48 per cent of the general population was married. Almost 17 per cent of the homeless population aged 15 and over was either separated or divorced, significantly higher than the general population for which the equivalent figure was 6 per cent. Just over 8 per cent of homeless women were married compared with 5 per cent of men, while 19 per cent of homeless men were separated or divorced compared with 13 per cent of women.” [14]

Men women and children – Irish men women and children – the effects of homelessness and housing insecurity are myriad and debilitating – and personal – the causes are political, structural, institutional and economic. That’s who I met – Irish men women and children – families – ordinary people.

“Cllr Melisa Halpin added: “We are sleeping outside the council tonight with families and individuals on the housing list to highlight the severity of the housing crisis. The new council meets tomorrow and we want to ensure that housing becomes the number one issue for the new council.”

There are currently 4000 families on the housing list in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and the plan is to build 19 houses in 2014! This situation cannot continue. We want a radically different council – one that starts telling the government what we want and what the people who elected us want rather than just taking orders from Leinster House.” [15]

The mechanisms through which these causes are visited upon Irish people are government policy – THIS governments policies.

The reasons?

Political expediency – elitism – a cynical disregard for the effects of government policy on people – on real live human beings.

This is not politics – this is not democracy – this is apartheid – this is an oligarchy – this is wrong – and this needs to stop.

 

I am not personally a member of People Before Profit or of any political party for that matter, what I am is a Human Rights Advocate – and a roof over your head is a basic fundamental Human Right.

Someone made the point during a very very long night that if we (Ireland) had suffered a natural disaster like a tsunami or a hurricane and thousands of people had been made homeless, money would pour in from all over world in order to assist those people, in fact our own government would probably send aid to any other disaster struck country – yet here we are – with our own housing crisis – where there are thousands of Irish people, men women and children – who do not have a roof of their own over their heads and this government…………….this government through one of our Local Authorities, just spent 36 million euro’s on a library, according to Marie Baker a Fine Gael councillor in Dun Laoghaire – Rathdown [16]

 

I wonder how many Social Housing units they could have built for that 36 million euro’s? Well – at €100,000.00 a pop – 360 – reducing the current housing list of approx 4,000 to 3,640 – it would be a start.

What else has Dun Laoghaire – Rathdown County council earmarked millions of euro’s for? What about all the other Local Authorities, City and County Councils? Because it isn’t housing.

 

 

 

References

[1] The Simon Communityhttp://www.simon.ie/home.aspx

[2] Society of St. Vincent De Paulhttps://www.svp.ie/Home.aspx

[3] European Commission is not listening to the peoplehttps://www.svp.ie/News/Press-Releases/European-Commission-is-not-listening-to-the-people.aspx

SIMON COMMUNITIES CALL FOR FULL CABINET SUPPORT FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION PLAN ON THE STATE’S RESPONSE TO HOMELESSNESS

http://www.simon.ie/MediaCentre/MediaReleases/TabId/206/ArtMID/851/ArticleID/50/SIMON-COMMUNITIES-CALL-FOR-FULL-CABINET-SUPPORT-FOR-THE-IMPLEMENTATION-PLAN-ON-THE-STATE%e2%80%99S-RESPONSE-TO-HOMELESSNESS–.aspx

[4]Irish people did not sign up for what was done to them in the bailout – Vincent Browne

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/irish-people-did-not-sign-up-for-what-was-done-to-them-in-the-bailout-1.1631046

[5]27.12.2013, Irish „rescue”: 67.5 bn of bail-out loans, 89.5 bn to banks – Attac investigation shows: cash flows from Ireland to the financial sector significantly exceed bail-out loans / EU crisis management policy bleeds out people and economy to funnel billions to the banking system

http://www.attac.at/news/detailansicht/datum/2013/12/27/irish-rescue-675-bn-of-bail-out-loans-895-bn-to-banks.html

[6]Ireland prepares to exit bailout after ‘biggest crisis since the Famine’ – as it happened.

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/dec/13/ireland-prepares-to-exit-bailout-business-live#block-52aaee51e4b008af53c5c3bb

[7] CORE POLICY OBJECTIVE: HOUSING & ACCOMMODATION

http://www.socialjustice.ie/sites/default/files/file/SER%202010/2010%20-%20SER%20-%207%20-%20Chapter%203%205%20-%20Housing%20and%20Accommodation.pdf

[8]What is Homelessness – Simon Community.

http://www.simon.ie/sci/Homelessness/Homelessness.aspx

[9] How many people are Homeless?

http://www.simon.ie/Portals/0/Docs/How%20many%20people%20are%20homeless%20in%20Ireland%20-%20Sept%202012.pdf

[10] Qualifying for Social Housing in Ireland

http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/housing/

local_authority_and_social_housing/applying_for_local_authority_housing.html

[11] Qualifying for Rent Supplement in Ireland.

http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/social_welfare/

social_welfare_payments/supplementary_welfare_schemes/rent_supplement.html

[12] http://www.cori.ie/Justice/545-cori-justice-claims-the-working-poor-are-among-irelands-most-vulnerable-and-should-be-protected

[13] The Human Cost – An overview of the evidence on economic adversity and mental health and recommendations for action – Mental Health Commission – September 2011

http://www.mhcirl.ie/file/hcpaper.pdf

[14] CSO Special Report on Homelessness

http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/census/documents/homelesspersonsinireland

/Homeless,persons,in,Ireland,A,special,Census,report.pdf

[15] http://richardboydbarrett.ie/2014/06/05/sleep-out-will-commence-at-7pm-this-evening-td-and-cllrs-sleep-out-overnight-with-homeless-families-to-protest-housing-crisis-prior-to-new-council-agm-in-dun-laoghaire/#more-327647

[16]Dun Laoighre’s New Library

http://mariebaker.net/2014/dun-laoghaires-new-library/

 

 

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