Homelessness in Ireland

Ray (raycunhm@macollamh.ucd.ie)
Tue, 17 Sep 1996 11:24:29 +0000


** Workers Solidarity No 48 **
** Irish Anarchist Paper **

HOMELESS IN IRELAND; What are the facts?

Homelessness is a major issues in most of Europe, the U.S.A, and
a crisis issue in the developing world. Militant housing rights
groups, who see squatting as a political act, have sprung up in
France and Germany. In Ireland the issue is dealt with almost
totally by the charity and service organisations. This is partly
because because of Ireland's draconian legislation against
squatting, the Forcible Entry Act, and because few people on the
left have seen it as a political issue. So what are the facts about
homelessness here?

There are approximately 28,000 households on the waiting lists of
local authorities countrywide. The majority of these households
are lone parents, reflecting the changing social reality of Irish
society. Lone parents and the single homeless are especially
likely to have housing problems because local authority housing
stock still caters mostly for the standard nuclear families, three
and four bedroom houses which they are very reluctant to give
to lone parents and never give to single people.

The housing crisis is such now that particular groups have no
chance of public housing. Single people will not even be
considered for public housing and lone parents have a limited
choice of a long stay in a homeless hostel or an inner city flat
until something suitable comes along. These flats are often
referred to as drugs supermarkets by applicants.

South Dublin County Council for example, have 1,000
households on their waiting list for housing. Three quarters of
these are lone parents. They build 100 new houses a year at
present and have a maximum of 100 casual vacancies to offer
applicants. It is obvious in this situation, which is a typical one,
that people will have a very long wait for council housing.

Many have to rely on the privately rented sector in order to
survive. This means small, poor quality flats and bedsits at very
high rents. The health boards pay rent allowance but not
everyone gets it. Young people wanting to move out of home
often have a lot of trouble getting rent allowance and some do
not get it at all, depending on where they live.

A recent survey of youth homelessness in Tallaght found 79
young people had been homeless in the previous year. Some of
this was due to the fact that they would not get rent allowance.
Even for those who do qualify it is a ridiculous system where the
state subsidises landlords who are overcharging for awful kips.
The housing shortage means that these landlords can charge
what they like and get away with it.

Travellers also have serious accommodation problems. The
government's Task Force on the Travelling Community
estimated that 3,100 extra units of accommodation are needed
straight away to cater for the backlog of families living in
primitive conditions without sanitation or electricity.

The housing crisis was brought about by the government's
decision back in 1987 to stop building public housing. That policy
lasted for five years and the number of house being built now is
still only a fraction of what it was in the seventies and early
eighties. While Cork, Dublin and Galway are full of new
apartment blocks for yuppies there are thousands of families,
especially lone parents, living in squalor waiting for decent
housing.

Homelessness is not just about people sleeping rough on the
streets. It is also about people living in overcrowded flats and
houses, living temporarily with friends and relatives but having
no place of their own, people threatened with eviction and
people living in hostels and institutions because they have no
where else to live. Homelessness is an issue for gays and lesbians
who can be thrown out of home when they declare their sexual
orientation. It is also an issues for women and children who are
being abused in their homes.

Homeless people are especially vulnerable to physical attacks,
exploitation and abuse of all kinds. Their health suffers badly.
Many of the long term homeless in this country are mentally ill
and have been discharged from institutions to the non-existent
'community' of the streets.

There is no solution except a major increase in affordable, good
quality public housing, accessible to everyone who needs it. The
fact that it is not available results in the growing number of
homeless people in this country, many of whom are young,
some in their teens. It is an issue which should be taken up by
the trade union movement. Next to struggles for wages and
conditions, housing struggles are vital to the interests of the
working class - the people who can end up homeless in this
society.

Patricia McCarthy

The situation in Cork

CORK SAW over 1,300 families on the waiting list for
Corporation housing at the beginning of the year. Only 150 new
houses were completed last year, and this year's target is 200.
Because of this thousands of men, women and children are
condemned to live in overcrowded conditions with relatives or
to pay through the nose for a private flat - if you can find a
landlord prepared to rent to people with children.

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