Homeless campaigner Peter McVerry SJ fears that “we may be witnessing a tipping point” for people who are homeless, as figures for the month of July show a significant surge in the number of deaths of people who are in emergency accommodation or homeless.
Peter, who is the social advocate at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice has been speaking out today, Friday 7th August 2020, in the wake of the news.
He says there were ten deaths recorded in this single month which represents almost a third of 2019’s total of 34 deaths. “This increase is a cause of great concern,” according to Peter because the types of deaths we related to suicide and drug overdoses, which he says are typically deaths of despair.
He says that people experiencing homelessness are losing hope as they can see no end to their time in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough.
“When this loss of life is coupled with the overall number who are homeless and the prevalence of indicators of ill-health among the homeless, it is clear that we are dealing with a public health crisis, ” he says, adding, “This crisis will only escalate now that tenancy protections have been removed.”
Peter says that the Covid-19 pandemic proved we have the capacity to respond with urgency, seriousness, and generosity when needed. And the housing and homelessness crisis is not separate from the effort to defeat Covid-19.
“The human cost of homelessness in Ireland is now also a public health threat,” he says, adding, “To allow the scale and severity of homelessness in Ireland to continue for five years more was always unconscionable, but to allow it to grow over the next five months is untenable. We must act now and commit to the changes to make our society more just, and more healthy.”
The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice recommends that to reduce further deaths, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government designates homelessness as a public health crisis and responds accordingly.
Better conditions and secure shelter would reduce deaths and help to alleviate the mental health difficulties of people experiencing homelessness. Prompt access to high-quality addiction treatment and counselling to anyone who wants or needs it is essential.
According to Keith Adams, Social Policy Advocate at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, “The 31 deaths reported so far in 2020 is just short of last year’s total. The continuation of existing homeless policy, as these conditions of inadequate shelter and treatment remain unaddressed, can no longer be understood as just ineffective. These policies are now best described as lethal.”