Charities warn drop in homeless families may provide false hope

There was a 17% increase in the number of homeless families last year

Charities warn drop in homeless families may provide false hope

The Homeless Jesus sculpture outside Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin | Image: RollingNews.ie

Homeless charities have warned that a drop in the number of homeless families may provide false hope regarding efforts to tackle the crisis.

The latest data from the Department of Housing has found an 8% drop in the number of families in emergency accommodation in December.

The Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has claimed the figures illustrate that good progress is being made in tackling the crisis.

However Focus Ireland has warned that the reduction follows a major increase during 2017.

The charity’s spokesperson Roughan MacNamara said that since the Government began recording the figures, there is “traditionally always a drop in December and sadly a sharp rise in January.”

The charity notes that the government recorded a 205% increase in new homeless presentations in Dublin between December 2015 and January 2016 – rising from 41 to 125.

That saw the total number of homeless families in the city rising by 12% from 688 to 769.

The charity has warned that there is no reason to believe there will not be another spike when the January figures are release next month.

Crisis

This month’s figures show there were a total of 8,587 homeless people in Ireland last month.

There were 1,408 homeless families nationally – with 1,121 in Dublin.

The department figures show the number of homeless adults fell by 16 last month – while homeless children fell by 254.

Minister Murphy admitted the government still has more work to do – but welcomed the latest figures as a indication that good progress is being made.

“Homelessness will continue to be a challenge and the Government will continue to work relentlessly to exit as many people from emergency accommodation, as well as prevent people from entering homeless services, over the course of 2018,” he said.

Cautious welcome

Meanwhile, the Peter McVerry Trust has given a cautious welcome to the slight drop in the figures.

However, spokesperson Frances Doherty said it is important not to read too much into the numbers:

“Any decrease in the homeless numbers is to be welcomed,” he said.

“Our concern is that we have had similar decreases in previous winters which have proven to be blips rather than the start of a trend.

“We would sincerely hope that this would be the beginning of a trend in the long-term that homeless figures are going to decline or stabilise.

“But I think we need to see it over a number of months rather than just one month.”

Failing policy

Mr MacNamara said that the annual statistics recorded a 17% increase in homeless families last year.

He said that while government policy has “achieved some good things,” he warned that “overall it is failing.”

 “A 17% increase in the number of families, despite the drop in December is showing that it isn’t doing enough,” he said.

“There are more actions that they could be taking to prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place that they have shied away from.”

Urgent

He said it is time lawmakers took a more urgent approach:

“They keep saying that this issue is going to take time to tackle,” he said.

“The over 3,000 children who are homeless – they don’t have time; they don’t have this time, this is their childhood they are talking about.

“A year, two years – it is a precious amount for adults; but for children, that just is wrong and it is unfair to expect them to wait and lose out on their childhoods.”

Social and affordable housing

The Inner City Helping Homeless head of communications Brian McLoughlin welcomed the reduction but warned that, while there were reductions in the number of homeless children between November 2016 and January 2017, “by February the number of children had increased significantly and it continued to do so for the rest of the year.”

“There is still a lot of work to do to end this crisis,” he said.

“We need to see a lot more social and affordable housing delivered quickly to prevent further year on year increases."

He said 8,587 people were officially homeless on Christmas Day this year - 3079 of these were children.