Guest editorial for Homelessness issue of VIEW
By Jim Dennison, Chief Executive, Simon Community NI
Very often the word ‘crisis’ is overused. Sometimes it is used to overstate something which is a problem. I have stated for some time now – as others have who work to end homelessness – that we are in a homeless crisis. I don’t use that word lightly. The literal definition of crisis is ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger’. Make no mistake; the issue of homelessness is getting worse here. More and more individuals are finding themselves homeless or becoming increasingly susceptible to the risk of it.
During the period of the last public government-sponsored Homelessness Strategy (2012-2017), we have seen a 13 per cent rise in the numbers of those who are officially accepted as being homeless from 9,000 to 11,200, since the life of the strategy. In that same five-year period, we have also seen Northern Ireland as a whole experiencing greater debt, less access to disposable income, have fewer savings and this has, in part, been responsible for an ever-worrying trend of house repossession and tenancy eviction.
We have growing and well-documented issues with an increase in those suffering from mental ill health and addictions. For all of our talk of a newfound peace, we still have a government that operates (when it’s functioning at all) in a fragmented and siloed way.
We have a housing waiting list that grows and currently sits at 40,000 households, yet we are building fewer than five per cent of the homes needed to accommodate these families and individuals.
We have a largely unregulated private rented sector, one that is not sympathetic or overly accessible to individuals who are reliant on social welfare support. All of these things are huge problems in their own right. All of these problems cause homelessness. All of these problems are hard to address.
So, if we think of ‘crisis’ being a period of intense difficulty, the use of that word is appropriate. We are also living in a very dangerous time and again I use that word with some caution, yet justification. Indications from England, Scotland and Wales clearly show that welfare reform is having a very detrimental effect on those people who need support.
Welfare reform changes loom large in Northern Ireland and we can reasonably speculate that the outworking of that will not be good for those who are potentially the most vulnerable or marginalised in our society.
Recent budget cuts to support homeless services – and the threat of further cuts – in a time of growing demand for these services could have a catastrophic effect on how we tackle homelessness.
A recent academic estimation of hidden homelessness, i.e. those who are technically homeless but have not declared themselves as being so, indicates that there could be as many as 136,000 adults currently in that position. If these three things don’t describe what could be dangerous to people’s lives and welfare I don’t know what can.
I want to focus on the current crisis but it’s important that I end on a positive note. This crisis is fixable. People here have an enormous amount of tenacity and goodwill to those who need help. We have the creativity for problem-solving and can be innovative when we need to be. With this kind of commitment and – if underpinned with proper strategic political commitment, adequate resources and openness about the size and scale of the problem – we could collectively end homelessness.
We should never lose sight of that nor give up striving towards it.
To read our latest issue of VIEW which looks at homelessness – https://issuu.com/brianpelanone/docs/view_-_homelessness_
To download a PDF version – https://cl.ly/nw2e
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