SLIGO CHAMPION Tuesday, December 23, 2014
‘Right to Shelter is a basic right’
By Paul Deering
ACCESS to suitable, affordable accommodation in the private rented sector in Sligo is vital as the city’s housing list reaches 1,100. That’s according to Des Dunbar who has been to the forefront of meeting the needs of the homeless in Sligo for the past 39 years as manager of accommodation services for Sligo Social Services. He says the Government needs to address the issue of rent caps in order to allow individuals and families access to the private rented sector.
Mr Dunbar says the average rent per week in Sligo city for a single person is €100 but the maximum rent cap is €92. For a couple or one parent family with two children the maximum rent cap is €125 whereas to rent a three bedroom house can range from €137 to €170 a week.
“Whilst I welcome the Government’s announcement of 30,000 houses (social housing) to be built, there is a major need to have an emergency interim plan to address the homeless crisis. Bed and breakfast is not an acceptable response to parents with young children who find themselves out of home.
“Homelessness is a complex social problem. It strips people of their independence, dignity and autonomy. Poverty can be a primary cause of homelessness,” he says. Other factors include: Family breakdown, marital breakdown; alcohol/drug addiction; loss of tenancy/insecure housing; mental health issues; leaving the care system and lack of resources/poverty/loss of job.
The homeless, he says, tend to be marginalised in the labour market. Attitudes to the homeless can engender prejudice and discrimination. They invariably have difficulty in accessing good quality accommodation and landlords can be reluctant in taking on tenants with rent supplement.
Many people’s views of the homeless are of those they see on the street, normally drinking but these are in the minority. Mr Dunbar says there is about six to eight street drinkers in Sligo at any one time.
“Most have a long history of alcohol misuse and often drink in groups for companionship. Contrary to public opinion it is my experience that many street drinkers do not sleep rough. I have noticed they have become younger and experience extreme poverty and social exclusion.
“They live in hostels, bed and breakfasts and some stay with friends. Street drinkers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and better support is needed for them,” he says. The numbers sleeping rough in Sligo are very low. “To the best of my knowledge there is only one individual I know sleeping rough. He has been offered long term accommodation but declined to take up the offer,” says Mr Dunbar.
Sligo Social Services oversees accommodation for the homeless at a number of locations across the city. Maryville Hostel provides emergency accommodation for up to ten single men and women and is open from 5 pm each evening until 1 pm the following day. Each person is allocated a key worker to support them.
Ballytivnan hostel provides short-term accommodation with support for single men who have been identified as needing more intensive support before they move on to live independently in the community.
McAuley House offers four self-contained apartments as short-term accommodation for up to four families. The service also provides one-to-one support to families to help them to build their capacity in areas which are likely to cause difficulties in their family and their future accommodation.
The agency also offers a resettlement and tenancy support service. A Substance Misuse Support Service, funded by the North West Drug Task Force, engages with and supports homeless and formerly homeless individuals who have or have had issues with addiction. Last year, the Sligo Homeless Action Team was set up and has played a pivotal role in bringing together all relevant statutory and non-statutory agencies to consider the best way to meet the needs of homeless people.
Mr Dunbar says the services get great support from its funders, the HSE, County Council and the North West Drug Task Force. “In particular we have an excellent relationship with the Council and with them we make every effort to respond.
“The message I would like government to hear is the right to shelter is a basic human right as recognised by the UN Charter on Human Rights and we must leave no stone unturned to put an end to homelessness in Ireland.
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