Charities have said they are unable to cope with the pressure of thousands seeking help for homelessness amid signs of a return of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ property bubble.
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland launched a blistering attack on the official response to the growing homelessness. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said social measures to deal with the crisis were a widespread failure.
Revealing that a church agency had to turn away 1,000 of the country’s poorest people last year because they can’t cope with demand, he said the situation has become critical.
“The level of homelessness in what is a wealthy Dublin is shameful,” he said.
“We face one of the paradoxes of many developed societies: we have increased homelessness and we have unoccupied housing; we have people hungry and enormous quantities of food are thrown away daily.”
He was speaking in a week in which it was revealed that Dublin is now the 13th city in the world for millionaires, with proportionally more millionaires than San Francisco, Paris or Toronto. The statistic was revealed in a global study published by Spear’s magazine, which measured a person’s net wealth (in dollar terms, and excluding their family home) in cities across the globe.
But at the other end of the wealth scale, a deliberate attempt by the Dublin government to ramp up property prices has forced families who cannot afford increased housing costs onto the streets.
New figures from homelessness agency Focus Ireland has said that one family a day are becoming homeless. More than 10,000 people turned to the charity last year, but it has already helped 8,000 people during the first six months of this year alone, an increase of 60%.
“Homelessness is a sort of thermometer of the overall social climate,” said Archbishop Martin. “If that is the case, the current crisis of homelessness in Ireland is in fact an indication of a more widespread failure of social policy.”
New figures which show a 24 per cent increase in property prices in Dublin over the past year which have fuelled the crisis. Economists have accused the state-owned banks and NAMA, the state ‘bad bank’, of exercising a monopoly on the housing market to artificially inflate property prices to help improve their balance sheets.
Rents have jumped up in tandem, and some families have seen landlords almost double their rent overnight, elevating them beyond the level at which they can claim welfare payments.
Castleknock pensioners Martin and Violet Coyne cannot afford to move from their home, which has been repossessed from their landlord, because of high rents in the area. ACC bank has insisted they must vacate the premises.
Local Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Sandra Kavanagh, who was part of a protest against the planned eviction, branded the attempt to evict the elderly couple as “scandalous”.
“The choice is simple here: evict these pensioners... or let them remain in this house paying rent to the receiver for the bank,” she said.
There is an estimated 67 derelict houses in Ireland for every one homeless person, and squatting has become a way of life for many young people.
Housing “action groups” have sprung up to help “liberate” vacant housing as a means of providing accommodation for those in need. There are few legal protections, however, and squatters are treated with visible hostility by both government agencies and police. Their sudden and sometimes violent eviction garner little attention in the mainstream media.
Dessie Ellis, Sinn Fein’s housing spokesman said rent control was needed. “We need to implement a plan of rent control to stop unabated rent hikes and stabilise rates to a level people can afford,” he said.
“This must be done in conjunction with a change to rent assistance schemes in place to make them more flexible in order to protect families from becoming homeless for the sake of a few euro a week.”