Just before last week’s elections Peter McVerry SJ spoke to RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan about the homelessness situation, which he described as ‘beyond crisis’. He ignited a national debate and the government responded with a special cabinet discussion of the issue. They produced an action plan – but will it work and is it enough? Peter McVerry SJ gave IJN his response.
In essence the government’s plan is to renovate local authority houses and use properties that NAMA can make available, in order to house homeless people. Peter McVerry SJ welcomes this initiative saying that if it’s implemented, then by 2016, it would have made a huge impact on today’s homelessness problem.
The problem is however, according to Peter, that the plan takes no account of the many more homeless people coming down the road who will present another huge problem in the years to come. Most of these people, he says, will come from the working and even middle classes – the new homeless – ordinary people who don’t have the usual problems associated with homelessness such as alcoholism, drug addictions or mental health problems.
“We’ve been told there are going to be 25,000 house repossessions so that’s 25,000 families without a home. Some may go back to live with elderly parents but many cannot. Then we have the 40,000 ‘Buy to Let’ mortgages that are now in arrears which will result in tenants ending up on the streets. This is a disastrous situation and I am convinced that homelessness will be the defining problem of the future. Unemployment is tough enough to have to endure and it’s a serious problem but if you and your children don’t have a roof over your head, then you’re in real trouble”.
So for Peter, who has been fighting the homelessness problem for most of his Jesuit life, the governement’s plan is a ‘once-off solution’ that’s simply not enough. “We need a steady supply of housing to solve the problem in a sustainable way”, he says. “We need 5,000 social houses per year for the next twenty years and that will cost €1 billion per year. It’s going to be expensive but not as expensive as ignoring the situation. That’s the scale of the problem which has to be tackled in a systemic manner if we are to avoid the tsunami bearing down on us.”
Peter McVerry is founder and secretary of The Peter McVerry Trust which provided accommodation for over three and a half thousand people last year alone.