Ireland in state of crisis in relation to homelessness, according to housing charity chairperson

by Orla O'Driscoll

Damien English addressing the charities annual report launch in The Mansion House. Image Credit: Orla O'Driscoll.

The current housing situation in Ireland was described as a country in a state of crisis when it comes to homelessness by the chairperson of the housing charity Threshold.

“We are in a state of crisis and we are particularly in a state of crisis in relation to the rental sector,” said Dr. Aideen Hayden at Threshold’s annual conference on Monday.

More than 71,000 calls were made to Threshold last year, and though they were able to help some families, Hayden said more protections are needed for tenants across the country.

Many believe that homelessness is the bottom of desperation, and that it happens only in hostels and on the streets of cities. But being without a constitutional right to a place to live, and safety for oneself and one’s family is way below the common moral expectation for most people. However, the fear of being displaced from accommodation can be just as damaging.

Lord Mayor Mícheál MacDonncha addressing the charities annual report launch in The Mansion House, said: “The measure of any society is how it treats its citizens.”

Tenancy protection services (TPS), have proven highly effective since their rollout in 2014. The service allows advocacy with the landlord, submitting and appealing rent supplement applications, and referring cases to the Rent Tenancies Board (RTB).

The TPS service was expanded to meet the needs facing families and it keeps families in their homes. According to Hayden, “this vital homelessness preventative service cannot be overstated.”

Homeless is not inevitable, nor should it be said Hayden:“At the moment when it comes to substandard accommodation, landlords are just waiting to be caught – and when they are caught, they get three or four chances before any action is taken.”

Renoviction – using an out-clause to get tenants out of properties on the premise of works needing to be done on a large to extreme scale, is something that needs much more definition according to Hayden.

Damien English TD, who spoke at the launch of the annual report said: “The department recently issued guidelines on what constitutes as renovation.”

However, Hayden responded by noting: “We don’t say this lightly and we are willing to give this an opportunity, but in our opinion, the reality of the matter is we need this to have a clear definition. We will end up taking every single case to the Rent Tribunal Board, (RTB) which is a use of resources we do not need, but that is what we are going to do because we feel so strongly about this issue. The bottom line is, Threshold wants to do work and we want to make sure what is out there to protect tenants really works.”

She went on to call for a database on rents, saying: “I understand Data Protection but the data protection excuse cuts no water with me. We need to have a readily searchable register of rents so that anyone coming into a situation where they are renting as a tenant they can see what the previous tenant was paying. In the absence of that people can have the option themselves to put up online their own information so that anyone coming in after them can readily find out what has been going on.”

The level of hidden homelessness also needs to be addressed, while families cram together with parents in cramped conditions.

Nationally there are now 5,298 adults and 3,194 children homeless meaning more than 1 in 3 people experiencing homelessness is a child. And while Threshold aims to be the go-between to stop young people experiencing homelessness or losing the home they know, there is a huge impact on the ability of the young person or teenager to get through school or college education unscathed, while the environment around them is so damaged and unstable.

Threshold says that 2,858 children stayed in their homes because of their intervention. But, with a 100% increase in calls to them over a 1-year period they have made it clear that the government needs to be doing more than making promises.

Damien English TD said that the issue of homelessness is discussed weekly in government:“We are trying to find a solution to the problems as a department. But it takes time to get the system back up running.”

He went on to commend Threshold on their action plan which he said is very much action oriented.

“To put down on paper what needs to be done every week and every month until eventually, we solve the housing crisis and that’s what we are trying to do,” said English in relation to the government’s plan to end the crisis.

Orla O’Driscoll

Image Credit: Orla O’Driscoll