Northern Ireland news

Governments need to help the homeless

Stephen Oreilly

THE ISSUE of homelessness in Ireland is undoubtedly very complex. It is accepted that some people who sleep rough do so not just because they do not have a home but also because they do not want to stay in any of the hostels provided.

So helping such people can undoubtedly be a challenge. But there are many more people who have been left on the streets by the economic downturn these islands experienced about 10 years ago. They include whole families as well as individuals.

While many of us are still suffering the effects of that economic disaster in various ways such as a loss of employment or a fall in earnings most of us still have a roof over our heads. That is a not unimportant fact when we have undergone and will probably continue to suffer severe winter conditions.

Belfast city council did not cover itself in glory with the unannounced removal of benches which were used by rough sleepers in the Victoria Street area. Due to public pressure those benches have since been replaced.

The Irish government has come in for significant criticism over a substantial period of time from activists who are working tirelessly to relieve the situation which many homeless families and individuals find themselves.

On Saturday night GAA players, managers and members took part in a 'sleep-out' in Irish cities including Belfast, Dublin and Limerick and in cities in America to raise funds for a number of charities, including those helping the homeless. While any funds raised will of course go a long way to helping people, the publicity will hopefully put pressure on the authorities to redouble efforts to make decent, affordable housing available to everyone.

If that means new building programmes and imaginative ways of putting houses within the financial reach of everyone, it is a task which should fall in the remit of government. All too often it seems that organisations such as the Fr Peter McVerry Trust in Dublin seem to be doing the brunt of the work in helping the homeless.

Last week that organisation announced it was making arrangements to make even more accommodation available in Ireland's capital city. It is a sad situation not only that this situation exists but that the public perception is that more is being done by volunteers than by government agencies to solve the problem.

Today we carry articles about the sleep-out and about volunteer initiatives such as free-haircuts for rough sleepers and meals on Christmas day for the lonely – no matter what their situation. While all those individuals and organisations are to be whole-heartedly applauded, we must hope that in the years to come government agencies will develop strategies which take up the bulk of this burden.

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