‘The answer may be staring us in the face’ – urgent call to identify derelict buildings as homeless figures hit record high

The bleak situation is compounded by asylum-seekers arriving here being forced to sleep rough

Latest figures confirm homelessness is now worse than at any other time in the history of the State. File image.

Eoghan Moloney

There are 11,632 people homeless in Ireland – the highest figure in the history of the State.

Figures published by the Department of Housing today show homeless numbers rose every month in 2022. It is the first time this has occurred since the numbers were first released in 2014.

The new figures for December 2022 show an increase of 90 people in one month compared to the 11,542 homeless in November.

It mean there’s been a 30pc rise in the number of people homeless in the last year, from 8,917 in December 2021 to 11,632 in December 2022.

According to the December figures, 1,594 families with 3,442 children are now homeless. Child homelessness has increased 40pc compared to December 2021.

It comes as 55 asylum seekers are homeless on Irish streets after they could not be accommodated by the State since arriving here this week.

Focus Ireland has described the figures as “shameful”, saying they should compel the Government to take urgent action before the crisis deepens further.

Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan said: “When we see a 30pc rise in the last year completely wipe out the massive progress we made during the pandemic in 2021 – when figures dropped to below 8,000 people – it is easy to just become despondent.

"But we need to use this setback to give us the impetus to take the steps that can change things. Focus Ireland welcomed the Government’s winter eviction ban but warned that it only allowed a breathing space for the Government to introduce measures that would have a more lasting impact.

"We are now halfway through the breathing space that the winter eviction ban creates, and we are calling on the Government to publish a progress report on how it has used this time and what it plans to put in place before the end of the current ban.

“The eviction ban is having a short-term positive impact by preventing families from losing their homes, but it does nothing to tackle the long-term shortage of homes which is driving homelessness.

"While we welcome the positive indications about the overall number of homes built last year, the projections for next year and the continued failure to reach the social housing targets, the number of landlords wanting to sell up and the new indications that the targets need to be increased all indicate that current plans are insufficient.

"We need to avoid a situation where numbers sky-rocket even further once the measure is lifted in April. A half-time report from Government would give us a clearer idea of how the Government intends to avoid this.”

Wayne Stanley of Simon Communities said: “We are seeing a drop in the number of people able to leave homelessness into the private rental sector with the support of HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) – a form of social housing support.”

According to Department of Housing figures relating to the third quarter of 2022, only 221 people moved out of homelessness into rented accommodation. That represents a significant decrease from 905 people in the third quarter of 2021.

Further figures also show that the total stock of HAP properties fell by 2,649 homes throughout 2022.

Mr Stanley added: “This is due to a lack of availability in the rental market and a lack of affordability in what is available. Our latest ‘Locked Out of the Market’ report found just 41 properties across 16 study areas available to rent within HAP limits.

“In the coming weeks, we need the Government to look again at the options available to prevent homelessness and to support people to move on from homelessness.

"To that end, the Government must plan for the extension of the moratorium on evictions while continuing to work on delivering homes to ensure that the extension is not needed.”

David Carroll, Chief Executive of Depaul, says in order to see a “meaningful reduction in homelessness”, housing allocations for 2023 should prioritise families currently experiencing long-term homelessness.

“Temporary accommodation is not the solution,” said Mr Carroll.

“We are at a pivotal point at this time and there is a critical need to accelerate the provision of emergency accommodation to accommodate IPAS (International Protection Accommodation Services) applicants.

"The Government has a responsibility to meet this basic humanitarian need. The capacity does not exist within the homeless sector to provide emergency accommodation for this group.”

Tiglin’s homeless outreach at The Lighthouse on Dublin’s Pearse Street, which regularly serves dinner to 250 people, has seen a 30pc increase in demand this week alone.

The organisation's founder, Aubrey McCarthy, called on the Government to immediately meet with homeless charities to put in place a national action plan to deal with record homeless numbers.

Tiglin is asking that derelict buildings be identified – such as hotels – and be retrofitted as turnkey solutions for charities in the sector.

“We are ready, we are doing this, we have done it already – we have a model,” said Ms McCarthy.

"With some joined-up thinking. Solutions are there to be found to ensure adequate accommodation can be provided for everyone affected by this crisis.

"These solutions include repurposing unused properties and buildings. We all clearly see these properties every day. Part of the answer may well be literally staring us in the face.”

It is anticipated that the current situation of the State not being able to offer accommodation to single-adult asylum-seekers will last until “at least” the middle of February, according to Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council.

Mr Henderson said the situation is leaving asylum-seekers “extremely distressed".

“We are working with at least 10 people who have applied for international protection this week and have been told by the State that there is no accommodation for them,” he said on RTÉ's News at One.

"These people in very difficult situations already. Some are presenting with health issues because they're now having to sleep rough. They're extremely distressed.

“This will be at least until the middle of February. So if we say around 30 people per day for 30 days, those are very significant numbers of people who would be homeless.

"So it speaks for itself, the gravity of the situation. It’s unprecedented. Ultimately, it's a clear breach of both Irish law and the European Union’s.”

The Irish Refugee Council is giving newly-arrived asylum-seekers that are homeless a list of services that can help them, but said: “The capacity across the system, and in Dublin city, is so stretched.”

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