Monday, January 27, 2014

More Irish people becoming homeless, says Threshold

Chief executive of national housing charity Threshold, Bob Jordan, has called for more social housing to tackle homelessness. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish TimesThe number of people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless and looking for support, has risen by 77 per cent in the last year, according to Threshold. 

The national housing charity, which works with adults and children suffering from poverty and exclusion, has reported that 2013 was its busiest year ever, with calls for support and guidance having been on the increase since 2010. 

“Referrals to our service almost doubled in the past year,” said Fionnughla McLoughlin, assistant manager of the Access Housing Unit. “Demand for accommodation in the private rental sector has been rising steadily in Dublin in recent years, and there is a serious shortage of rental accommodation in the city.”

The increase in demand has pushed average rents up, said Ms McLoughlin, adding that welfare cuts and rent supplement caps mean “vulnerable families” are no longer able to pay.

Threshold has seen a drop of almost 75 per cent in the number of rental properties advertised on “a leading property website”, she said. 

The number of landlords accepting rent supplements has dropped from 21 per cent in 2010 to 1.2 per cent last year, she also claimed. 

Senator Aideen Hayden, Threshold chairperson, said children are particularly at risk in the volatile renting environment. 

The Access Housing Unit, which helped in 81 cases with homeless people moving into rented accommodation in 2013, has reported that the majority of incidences involved children. 

“Homelessness, obviously, impacts particularly harshly on families with children,” said Ms Hayden. “Their education is disrupted, family support networks break down and there is a huge mental and emotional strain for those affected.”

Ms Hayden believes the biggest challenge facing homeless people is actually finding a place to live. “They often spend long periods of time in hostels and shelters before getting a chance to have a place of their own.” 

According to Bob Jordan, Threshold chief executive, the only way to improve the situation for 2014 is a real recognition of the shortage of social housing. 

“Social housing has traditionally been the safety net for people who can’t afford to rent,” said Mr Jordan. “We need to have a certain proportion of our housing stock designated for that group.

“The oversupply of housing that existed at the end of the property boom has been consumed and people are struggling to find a place to live.”

Mr Jordan believes the Department of Social Protection needs to focus more on the actual prevention of homelessness. 

“It used to be more traditional issues like mental health, leaving institutional care or addiction that caused homelessness. The new homeless are people who just aren’t able to afford their rent or bills.”

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