Homeless shelters at breaking point as crisis worsens

Homelessness in Galway is at crisis stage with the emergency shelters run by Galway Simon and COPE at breaking point, the head of Galway Simon said this week.

Urging the Government to "wake up" to the reality of the situation, Karen Golden, its CEO, said there were 9,846 people nationally and 514 in the west living in emergency accommodation. She described this as a "tragedy".

"Month after month, the number of people in emergency accommodation is steadily increasing. Locally here in Galway the emergency shelters and homes run by Galway Simon and COPE are at breaking point, meaning that hundreds of other individuals and families are forced to live in hotels, B&Bs and tourist hostels.

"In the west, there are 281 adults - 252 of whom are in Galway - and 233 children with no place to call home."

Responding to the latest national emergency accommodation figures, she said not enough was being done by the Government to address the crisis in the West of Ireland.

"The figures for May 2018 show that in just one year, an additional 63 families and 174 children are in emergency accommodation in the west with the majority of those in Galway. This represents an increase of 77 per cent in family homelessness."

She called on the Government to address this issue immediately. "Despite the worsening crisis, the Government have not taken any emergency measures to date. When Rebuilding Ireland was launched, the Government committed to moving all families out of emergency accommodation by mid-2017, and for hotels to be used in limited circumstances, however the Government failed to keep this promise," she said.

Speaking about the worsening housing crisisi in Galway local TD Catherine Connolly said 14 houses would be built in Galway during this and next year.

"If the Government does not declare an emergency, we cannot come up with proper solutions."

Karen Golden stated behind the statistics were real people. Individuals and families who are struggling to get through life living in emergency accommodation.

"There are also thousands of others who are sleeping rough, the hidden homeless, living in homeless services and people who are at risk of homelessness. Clearly the current policies are not working and we need immediate action. Members of the Dáil have been speaking out about this issue as well as all of the charities supporting the homeless population and it is time the Government listened."

Acute rental shortage

Meanwhile Cope Galway highlighted the need for additional new social housing. Its spokesperson Martin O'Connor stated the publication of the latest figures on homelessness by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for May 2018 shows no improvement in the situation for the west.

He outlined that it, in fact, showed an increase in the numbers of families living in emergency accommodation on the April 2018 figures. These rose from 80 to 82 and there was also an increase in the number of children accommodated as part of these families, up from 216 to 233.

Coinciding with the publication of the latest national homelessness figures, COPE Galway released figures from its most recent "One Day Census" of the numbers of homeless people availing of the organisation's services.

It revealed that 160 households, comprising 82 families, and including 221 children, 73 single people and five couples, were either accommodated directly by COPE Galway or placed in various forms of other emergency accommodation including B&Bs and hotels on that date.

Sixteen people were rough sleeping and a further 15 families and five single people who were at immediate risk of homelessness or who were "sofa surfing" - staying with friends or family due to non-availability of emergency accommodation, were in contact with COPE Galway's homeless services over this 24 hour period.

COPE Galway's frontline homeless services estimate there were about 20 further single men who were homeless and in need of accommodation but were not in contact with its services that day.

"The shortage of rental housing continues to be especially acute in Galway and rents continue to increase," said Martin O'Connor.

"This is resulting in a growing homelessness situation, one which could get out of control very easily despite everyone's best intentions and efforts.

"New additional social housing is the only solution to the needs of the individuals and families behind the figures from the Department of Housing Report and our own one-day census. But the pace at which the development of this housing is progressing is simply too slow and the numbers of homes being developed – 240 between now and 2020 in Galway city - is too little."

He said the figures for the number of people in emergency accommodation in May which was published by the Department of Housing, and the statistics from Cope's Midsummers Day Census, only tell part of the story.

"What they don't show are the stories and circumstances of each person and family who are homeless in our city this summer time. Being homeless is an enormously stressful and damaging experience for so many of the people we see each day. The setbacks people face in their efforts to find a home result in a sense of hopelessness all too often. Speeding up the delivery of much needed social housing, so that those without a home are provided for, has to be a priority for all at this time."

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