Homeless Nightmare Won't be Resolved by Government Response


You'd think Enda Kenny had never seen a homeless person before. In the wake of the sad death of Jonathan Corrie, who was sleeping rough in the shadow of Dáil Éireann, Ireland's parliament, the Taoiseach went walk about in the city centre to meet Dublin's homeless. In an interview with the media, he said he was "taken aback" by what he saw. 

Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, whisked around the capital by the ghost of Christmas present, he got a first hand view of the conditions that people without homes or hostel places have to endure. He saw the effects of addiction, the sleeping bags and the syringes, that dominate the lives of those who have been left at the margins. But, it's hard to believe that he didn't know this was happening; It's difficult to imagine, that after three and a half years in power, he has suddenly had a Scrooge like epiphany, and is going to pull out all the stops to transform the lives of the country's homeless people. 

Dublin Lord Mayor, Christy Burke, who accompanied Kenny on his field trip said, “The Taoiseach was with us for three hours. He had his woolly hat on and his jacket on, and his scarf, and he walked around and he fed people, and he listened to people." - A eulogy worthy of Jesus himself. But what will Enda do to save the poor? 

On Thursday, it was announced that four office blocks and one hotel could be made available by Nama to provide emergency accommodation for people sleeping on Dublin’s streets. Of course homeless people were not consulted in this process. Nama buildings have been lying idle for years, while government politicians have been ignoring the growing problem of homelessness. 

Enda, in his infinite wisdom, thinks that this move is sufficient. He said that there would be no need for anyone to be sleeping rough by Christmas (God bless us, everyone!), unless they want to. This isn't a solution to the problem, it's an abdication of responsibility. The next time someone suffering from addiction dies on our streets, the government will be able to shrug their shoulders and say, "there was no need for that, there were beds available". 

This completely ignores the nature of addiction, which would have been apparent, had this process been led by those who are most affected. It is likely that people will be required to stay sober to avail of this emergency accommodation. There will not be any extra services to help people deal with their addictions. Those who are physically and mentally dependent on heroin, alcohol and other substances, simply won't be able to make that choice. 

Furthermore, the government response completely ignores the roots of these problems. Poverty leads people into addiction. Property speculation creates the conditions where having a roof over ones head becomes desperately expensive. When the property bubble burst, and the profit went out of building houses, work on over 600 housing estates, some 3,000 homes in total, ground to a halt. You couldn't buy a home, you couldn't sell one, and you had about as much chance of getting to the top of a local authority housing list as winning one of those competitions in the property section of the Irish Times. 

Now that property prices have started to rise again, landlords have started to jack up rents, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands are still unemployed and hundreds of thousands more are in temporary or low paid employment. This, is the kind of economic activity the government encourages, its oriented towards growth and profit, not people. The law of the land is the law of the market, and if you're not able to afford a home that fits your needs, then tough; Your value is based on your wealth, your entitlement to the necessities of life is directly linked to the balance on your bank statement. 

Enda Kenny, Alan Kelly and the rest of the government may have seen the ghost of Christmas present, but they aren't going to turn their backs on the neo-liberal ideology that has created the circumstances for such tragedies as the death of Jonathan Corrie to happen. They are part of the problem, that will never change. The solution, is to increase services for those suffering from addiction at the expense of welfare for the rich, to take the profit motive out of the provision of homes, and ultimately to end the rule of the market and for each and every individual to have control over their own lives.


Words: Mark Hoskins (Follow Mark on Twitter)