Here’s a question to consider for everyone reading. On your way to work, school or anywhere you go during the day, how many homeless people do you pass on the street?
Admittedly, my experience might be a bit different to the rest of the country, living in the commuter belt and travelling into the centre of Dublin most days of the week. But the numbers are startling, and seem to go up and up and up, regardless of weather and anything that the government claims to be doing about the problem.
I used to be one of those people would give change whenever I passed such a person, before becoming disabused with the usefulness of such an action, which is as likely to be harmful as beneficial. Instead, I give money to Simon, and it’s a very worthwhile cause. One of the most horrific by-products of the recent economic disaster, this issue is something that has seen an altogether limp response from the political class.
Indeed, looking into manifestos and policies, there seems to be some problems of definition. I’m talking about those “sleeping rough”, or “vagrants” if you prefer to use a term that’s got a bit more of a derogatory tinge to it, the people soliciting for coins on the street, and not those families living in emergency accommodation or in hotels at the expense of the state – a very serious problem in its own right, but at least those people have something over their heads. I’m finding that a lot of parties have plenty to say on the latter and how to go about solving that problem – though most of it comes down to “Build more houses” – and either ignore the former or simply combine the two into the same issue.
The reason isn’t too hard to fathom: there are votes in focusing on one of those problems, and less in focusing on the other, with a remarkable number of people in this country still content to treat street homelessness as some kind of just punishment for personal failings, a problem only insofar as they don’t want to have to look at it. How do the parties line up?
(Note: many of these have been written before party’s release their manifestos. I have little sympathy if there is some complicated policy I’m missing as a result, since the furor over the election date included complaints from a lot of parties acting as if the date itself was obvious, who then amazingly didn’t have manifestos ready to go when the election was actually called.)
Fine Gael economic plan includes a promise to boost the “affordable housing supply” to tackle homelessness. Within the last year, their plans have been severely criticised. Remarkably little on those sleeping rough.
Edit 14/2/16: Fine Gael’s very late manifesto includes a commitment to “end the need for rough sleeping” through greater emergency beds and accommodation services.
The Labour documents in relation to the last budget trumpet the governments growing investment in emergency accommodation and homelessness services generally. Nothing on those sleeping rough. There’s a 150 of them a night by the way.
Edit 15/2/16: Labour’s very, very late manifesto has much of the same, and does not mention those sleeping rough specifically.
Fianna Fail want to build thousands and thousands of social housing units to tackle the problem for families. Man, why didn’t I think of that? You’ll find a few comments here and there about those sleeping rough, but the overwhelming emphasis is on families as discussed above. The manifesto released at time of writing is a more complicated version of the same.
Sinn Fein have a welcome and lengthy housing section in their manifesto, with plenty of good ideas. But again, nothing on those sleeping rough. It seems clear that parties are content to lump the various strands of this problem into one catch-all response, but I don’t think that is good enough.
AAA-PBP have, among their common principles, a commitment to invest in housing and use NAMA as a way to alleviate the difficulties. Nothing on those sleeping rough specifically. Ditto for PBP’s recently released manifesto.
Leave it to the Greens. Look, an actual homeless policy that goes beyond webpage. There’s so much there that I can’t sum it up quickly, but it’s bursting with interesting ideas for those homeless and sleeping rough: relaxation of fixed abode medical card laws, opening up of hostel hours to aid in the finding or work, rehab programs, and a rejection of focusing purely on building cheap houses. It’s a hugely impressive examination of the topic, and puts the bigger parties to shame.
Renua’s manifesto has a section on homelessness, and is one of the few to actually draw a line between the “unhoused” and sleeping rough. Even if their policies amount to “Get the local authorities to do more”, it’s not too bad: local authorities should be doing more. But of course, this is a party who explicitly say that “rent certainty” is a bad thing, so I’m not sure the homeless of any kind are high on their list of priorities.
Lastly, the Soc Dems manifesto has a housing section, that is back to increasing the amount of social houses being built, and revamping existing structures like NAMA to help in the crisis (and getting local authorities to do more). Nothing on those sleeping rough.
It’s fairly disappointing isn’t it? With the exception of the Greens and, to a lesser extent, Renua of all people, most parties struggle to even acknowledge that those sleeping rough are a problem to worry about, or to distinguish from the larger housing crisis.
But they’re still there. You’ll see them every damned day. I endorse fully the Green parties plans to try and tackle this problem with compassion and a helping hand, beyond throwing the occasional pile of cash towards existing systems and adding directions to a hostel. Because something needs to change.