I see seven towers, but I only see one way out[1]

It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic
to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual
well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall
suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter.
Democratic Programme of the First Dáil

Surely it’s clear that we’ve fallen well short of that first duty of the first Dáil when 8,737 people are homeless in Ireland, one in three of them a child. Those official counts of homeless families in emergency accommodation don’t, however, include rough sleepers or the so-called hidden homeless—those people who are living with their children in their parents’ box room, or ‘sofa surfing’ with friends. Nor does it include women and children staying in domestic violence refuges or an unspecified number of homeless families who have been placed in ‘own door’, i.e. self-contained but temporary accommodation.

Nor does it include those people in private rental property receiving HAP (Housing Assistance Payments) who account for a large part of the statistical reduction in official homeless numbers. They will have been deleted from the waiting list for housing because their permanent housing needs are ‘deemed to have been met’. Crucially, however, they don’t have security of tenure.

At best, the landlord is bound only to continue the lease for six years. The tenant can then be asked to leave for no cause. But not all landlords feel bound by the rules; they can and do end a tenant’s lease for any number of illegitimate reasons. There are penalties for this kind of behaviour, but nobody polices the eviction notices—that’s the tenant’s responsibility. But because there’s no redress for the now potentially homeless tenants, there’s no incentive to pursue a case and most abuses go unreported.

This isn’t a trivial matter. If a tenant receiving HAP is made homeless once more, by legal or any other means, having lost their place on the waiting list by accepting HAP, they’ll go to the back of a housing queue that can be more than a decade long.

The terms of landlords receiving HAP have to include secure, open-ended, rent-controlled tenancies. Otherwise, security of tenure for public tenants will become a thing of the past.

Let’s be clear, this is a policy-driven crisis. Bedrock Fine Gael ideology does not want government in the business of building public housing, because it interferes with the free market. The ‘logic’ is that, without government interference, supply-and-demand in a free marketplace will solve the problem. Except that it hasn’t.

We freed the market, it boomed, and now we have a homelessness crisis that shames our Republic, in which children are born and/or grow up in b&bs on meals from the chipper–from the start of their lives, nutritionally, economically, educationally, and socially disadvantaged.We read stories about babies who are delayed learning to crawl or walk because of a lack of floor space: the children who . . . er . . . um, being raised by the adults whose spirit is constantly in the process of being broken.

[1] Running to Stand Still, by U2: Sweet the sin / Bitter the taste in my mouth / I see seven towers / But I only see one way out