When John Corrie was found dead last December in close proximity to Leinster House, there was national uproar. Politicians began to step out from the shadows to acknowledge that the issue of homelessness in Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, had reached severe levels and must be engaged with effectively and immediately. It is lamentable that it would take the death of a man mere steps away from where our parliament meet for them to recognise the reality of the situation. But we naively sought to find solace in the fact that this homeless man’s death at least appeared to be a catalyst for a change. With the correct response, perhaps it would generate the impetus for our government to face the issue for what it was: a crisis.
However, as winter came to a close and the days began to grow brighter, the discussion of homelessness exited mainstream media as quickly as it appeared following John Corrie’s death. Last December the government announced a number of long-term measures to tackle homelessness, including the National Homeless Strategy – effectively a plan to ring-fence resources in order to supply accommodation. While this has to be welcomed, the crisis cannot be simply put aside in the short term. The number of people taking advantage of emergency accommodation continues to rise with over 3,000 adults currently accessing the service nationwide.
In 2013 the government proposed to eradicate long-term homelessness by 2016. As we approach the end of 2015, it is obvious that the government will spectacularly fail to reach this target. The death of a homeless man in his mid 30s on Dawson Lane on Friday serves as much of a reminder of this as anything does.
What is even more distressing is the number of children who cannot claim a permanent roof over their heads. According to the Simon Community, 1,383 children are currently in emergency homeless accommodation nationally. Homelessness can have a devastating impact on a person’s well-being and if these children are not saved from homelessness, it is almost certain that they will experience it again as adults.
While Trinity is not the perpetrator, nor is it a victim of homelessness, its place at the heart of the city centre where this problem is so prevalent means college cannot continue ignoring it.
Emergency accommodation, as the name suggests, should only be used in an emergency. It is a temporary solution which does little to alleviate the core problem. It is not the answer to the homeless crisis. It is the equivalent of placing a plaster over a wound which requires urgent and significant medical attention. It will stem the bleeding but it won’t cure the condition. A real plan is necessary, one that seeks to effectively tackle the issue at its core. Those who live through this hardship and misfortune on the streets do not simply need a bed for the night. They need a home.
While Trinity is not the perpetrator, nor is it a victim of homelessness, its place at the heart of the city centre where this problem is so prevalent means college cannot continue ignoring it. One only has to walk a few metres out the Nassau Street entrance or step through Front Arch to see the problem. Whether it be a man sat in front of Insomnia cradling a coffee cup of coppers, a couple huddled in a sleeping bag under the slight bit of shelter outside Spar, or a young man slumped on a bed of cardboard against College Green, wedged between the ATMs. While we are privileged to have a number of student societies which work tirelessly to alleviate social problems such as these, it is time the rest of us also acknowledged the severity of this issue. Furthermore, the accommodation shortage which has caused so much stress and pain for students this year, is also one of the major causes of the current homeless crisis. While homelessness may not be a widespread issue within Trinity, on the other side of the walls it is not only rampant but growing. As students we wholeheartedly embrace the perks of a city centre campus. Now it is time to recognise and help mitigate the troubles it suffers from.
Numerous homeless charities are already carrying the burden of providing assistance to the considerable and growing homeless community. Focus Ireland, the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust and the Simon Community are all working tirelessly to try and alleviate the suffering of those who find themselves on the streets. An extensive and compelling assault on homelessness is long overdue but unless the government finally positions this critical issue at the top of their agenda these praiseworthy charities will continue to fight a losing battle as the number of people sleeping rough rises in tandem with rising rents.
It is lamentable that it would take the death of a man mere steps away from where our parliament meet for them to recognise the reality of the situation.
However, the government continues to wash its hands of the problem. Joanna Tuffy, a Labour TD criticised homeless charities back in August for not borrowing funds from the Housing Finance Agency, despite Focus Ireland pointing out that it is in fact less expensive for them to borrow money from commercial banks. As the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust chief executive said, it is disappointing to see a TD attacking homeless charities rather than the homeless crisis itself. The government should be aiding these charities in any fashion they can, not scolding them as if they were troublesome children. Homeless people have been failed by the state, not by homeless charities and it is as ignorant as it is ludicrous to think otherwise.
The issue of homelessness must be prioritised by our government. Solutions must be sought to end such wide scale homelessness not just for the night, but for life. Emergency accommodation will continue to be needed in the future but it cannot be relied on to the same extent as it is currently. The focus must shift to provide homes, not beds for those on the street. Significant and urgent action is essential. We must put pressure on the government to ensure promises made to combat homelessness are fulfilled. The Simon Community are asking us to send letters to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton urging the government to take vital action to end the crisis. But why does it take the pleads of a charity to make us acknowledge this plight? Our government has the power to commit to solving this crisis, and they are not wielding that power, but they are not the only ones at blame. There remains a distinct lack of demand or desire for action by the people. One can only hope that it doesn’t take the death of another homeless person at their doorstep for the people of Ireland to finally realise this.