On Sunday 12 May, at both Sandford and St Philip’s services, the address was given by Mr Frank Fitzpatrick in order to highlight the housing/homelessness crisis in Ireland today. Frank is a volunteer with Focus Ireland, a charity which the parishes have supported for many years.
For those of us who were perhaps unaware or unfamiliar with Focus Ireland, Frank began by giving us a brief overview of its role. It is a non-profit organisation based in Dublin and also provides services in Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Sligo, Kildare, Carlow, Tipperary, Wexford and Waterford. It is one of the largest housing and homelessness organisations in Ireland providing services for people who are homeless and people at risk of homelessness. It was founded by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy in 1985. Focus is currently concentrating on preventing homelessness i.e., working with young people, adults and families who are facing homelessness to ensure they keep their homes; and supporting people who are homeless to move into secure homes. Many require support in finding accommodation, whether it be short- or in some cases long term. 50% of its budget each year is through State funding and it has to raise the other 50% through generous donations from the public, from events and from corporate support.
Frank categorized homelessness into three areas:
- The ‘rough sleepers’ (the ones whom, I suspect, the majority of us equate with the word homelessness).
- The ‘invisible homeless’, i.e. the families (whether they be one- or two-parent) living in typically hotel accommodation, those in direct provision, those under refugee status, to name but a few.
- The people under threat of homelessness whether due to rising rents or landlords disposing of their rental property for a myriad of reasons.
The stark reality is that there are in or around 10,000 homeless including nearly 4,000 children in Ireland today with on average 3 families becoming homeless daily.
Frank then told us a story of the plight of one particular family that had made an impact on him: dad, mum, two children (a girl and a boy) and a dog. Dad had a full-time job, mum worked part-time while their daughter was in school and their little boy was in crêche. They were happily renting a house until their landlord decided to sell the property and try as they would the family could not find another affordable home to move into. As a result, they had to leave with what they could fit into three suitcases and they were forced to surrender their pet dog to the pound. After spending some nights in their car, they were subsequently housed in various accommodations (mostly hotel rooms where sleeping, eating and doing homework is typically done on the bed), which necessitated mum having to give up her job and take their little boy out of crêche as she had to bring their daughter to school (where she was teased for being homeless) on one if not two buses. Incidentally, it is also worth noting that hotels require families to vacate during the day until 6 pm, so the library or park are perhaps the only places which families can utilise during the day. Needless to say, there was tremendous tension between the parents, which is not surprising. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending in that the family eventually found suitable accommodation. Many others, unfortunately, do not.
In closing, Frank encouraged us to engage with politicians regarding this issue in the upcoming elections and again thanked us for our continued support. Karen Morton