Faith Matters

Tackling homelessness must be a priority for society

Catholic bishops this week issued A Room at the Inn?, a pastoral message on housing and homelessness. Having a permanent home is fundamental to human dignity, they say

During his visit to Ireland in August, Pope Francis spent time at the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people in Dublin. Among those he met were Bella Hartigan, aged 11 months, and her mother Candice. Picture by WMOF18/Maxwell Photography/PA Wire

STATISTICS on housing - such as those relating to the number of people living in emergency accommodation, to the number of households on waiting lists for social housing, to those in long-term mortgage arrears or to increases in rents and house prices - all draw attention to different, but ultimately inter-related, aspects of the current housing crisis in Ireland.

Each one of these statistics represents individual stories of distress and hardship endured by our sisters and brothers here in our own country.

Families with young children will sleep tonight in temporary accommodation, often in cramped, unhygienic and unsuitable conditions.

Many adults will be sleeping outside, exposed to the elements or in emergency hostels.

These people without homes, or whose housing is inadequate, like all human persons, have an intrinsic worth.

The system which gives rise to forced homelessness, or which allows for the continuance of inadequate, unaffordable and insecure housing, must be viewed as an assault on human dignity.

It is our duty as pastors to draw attention to these issues and, more, to challenge the system and attitudes which permit this state of affairs.

It is also our responsibility to speak and advocate for those who suffer and whose voice has been diminished through discrimination, disadvantage and despair.

Recognising the dignity of all in our society is not an empty formula of words, nor is it a mere charitable posture.

The Catholic Church teaches that each person, regardless of his or her economic or social position, racial or faith background, must be treated in a manner which fully respects their dignity.

Pope Francis, in his recent visit to the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people in Dublin, spoke to those who avail of the services of the centre, saying: "Do you know why you come here with trust?

"Because they help you without detracting from your dignity. For them, each of you is Jesus Christ."

We must always strive to honour and uphold the dignity of every human person, created in God's image.

We wish to state unambiguously that we Christians must do all within our power to improve the current situation in which tens of thousands of people live without homes or in inadequate or unaffordable housing, for in the homeless and the poor, "it is Jesus who comes".

Homelessness and poor housing conditions are, to a large degree, the result of past and current political and economic choices.

While these consequences may not have been intended, we must be clear that the deepening housing crisis has been created by a series of choices.

The current political and economic model in Ireland, north and south, leaves a situation in which many people have to survive without decent, stable homes.

The absence of adequate housing for all people in our society occurs as a result of governments prioritising other objectives over the provision of housing which is necessary to the dignity of the person.

We ask that people reject a version of Irish society which accepts a family dwelling in an overcrowded B&B, hostel or hotel room; a person sleeping in a wet shop-front in a city centre; or an older couple without the means to heat their home.

We ask rather that our society recommits itself to building a culture which cherishes all human life, not least by working towards the provision of warm, decent, affordable and secure homes for all.

We ask the faithful to pray for and, wherever possible, to serve those affected by the housing crisis.

We ask that the faithful request their political and civic leaders to prioritise action to effectively tackle the issues of homelessness and inadequate housing.

Pope Francis reminded us during his visit to Dublin that: "The Church is the family of God's children.

"A family in which we rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and weep with those who grieve or feel knocked down by life.

"A family in which we care for everyone, for God our Father has made all of us his children in Baptism."

In turn, we ask political and civic representatives to offer leadership on these matters and promote an ethic of life which makes clear that we are all diminished by the suffering of the weakest.

:: From A Room at the Inn? - A Pastoral Letter on Housing and Homelessness by the Irish Catholic bishops. The letter can be read in full at www.catholicbishops.ie

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