SLIGO CHAMPION Tuesday, December 30, 2014 - Soap Box with PAUL DEERING
Homelessness is an issue that requires long term thinking by our politicians
HOMESLESSNESS has come to the fore in this country with the death of a man who was sleeping rough not far from Dail Eireann. Since then, there have been two further deaths of people who used the homeless services in Cork, both tragically drowning.
These haven’t been the first deaths of homeless people in such circumstances in this country and I doubt if they will be the last. In Sligo we have had similar deaths, probably in even more tragic circumstances.
Media attention can come and go and while it was great to see a Government react so quickly, I have a feeling if it hadn’t been Christmas time and the death of that poor unfortunate man hadn’t been so close to our seat of power, nothing would have happened.
People’s perception of the homeless is probably one of those who drink, beg and take drugs on our streets with little sympathy for them. While it’s likely to be true that many homeless fall into this category there are also those who don’t. They too need help. There’s no one better placed to speak on the issue of homelessness in Sligo than Des Dunbar. For the past 39 years he’s been involved with Sligo Social Services and is the manager of Accommodation Services at the centre at The Lungy.
He spoke passionately that shelter is a basic human right, defined so by the UN. Every day he is dealing with individual and families who suddenly find themselves down on their luck.
He believes the Government urgently needs to address the issue of rent caps, revising them upwards to allow people access to suitable accommodation in the private sector. The allowances are just too low at present and with 1,000 families and individuals on the housing list in Sligo that’s a big issue. There are no major housing schemes in the pipeline for Sligo in the foreseeable future. Big plans have been unveiled for 30,000 units nationally but how much of that will be seen in this county and with a general election set for April 2016, plans can suddenly change.
What are Sligo’s 1,100 families to do for the next few years? They are being priced out of the private rented sector and Mr Dunbar needs to be heeded when he says there is a major need to have an emergency interim plan to address the housing/homeless crisis. Action like Mr Dunbar suggests is every bit as important as the opening of hostels which we have seen in Dublin in the lead up to Christmas. The problem with the latter is that the general public gets the impression that the homeless problem is now solved. It makes for good television to see dormitory style accommodation opening. We can now all rest in our beds knowing the Government quickly solved the issue. However, the issue of homelessness runs much deeper than that and it’s not just a Christmas issue. Last week, I met two middle aged men in Sligo who have spent much of their recent years homeless. They weren’t what many would perceive to be typically homeless. Both came from middle class backgrounds and how they came to be in the situation they found themselves was very similar. For the man in his 40s I spoke to, life was just fine up to a couple of years ago. He had a degree and was working in various jobs but the recession saw his hours dry up. In the background was a gambling addiction that spiralled out of control. He fell behind in his rent and before long he was served with a notice to quit. He spent more and more time in Sligo’s bookmaker shops. There were weeks when he literally ended up with nothing.
NO food and no bills being paid. He had to leave his house, his concrete base as he called it. He realised quickly he says how much damage he had done is a short space of time. He moved into hostels for the first time and while it was strange living like this at first he says the support he got was fantastic, all geared towards getting him back on his feet . He got in touch with Gamblers’ Anonymous and is slowly clearing rent arrears.
“I went from feeling very much on my own to being supported and having direction for the first time in a long while,” he told me. He says of the other homeless he met: “Everyone has their own story, one thing brought them down. Everyone is trying to get work, get back on their feet and move on. There would be issues with addiction, depression and unemployment.”
The other man I met was in his 30s. He too has known life in Sligo’s hostels over the past few years. He worked in the catering industry, holding down a job but he gambled as well, even stealing from his own family. He bet on horse and dog racing while he also admits to being “a bit of a drinker.” He lived in an apartment without electricity for a year and ended up in the clutches of moneylenders. Nobody wanted to know him when people found out he was homeless but Sligo Social Services didn’t turn him away and we should be so grateful we have such an organisation in our city.
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