As of our most recent City Council Housing Report there are 210 persons in emergency accommodation in the city. This number includes 41 families and 152 children. This number increases from year to year and the City Housing Department, in reply to my question about the projected cost of next years homeless budget, have confirmed they are seeking more funding due to increasing numbers presenting as homeless. The crisis in Housing is getting worse not better and it is a failure of government to put the resources in place and a failure of our local authority to fully implement plans.
Our most recent housing report also points out that Galway city Traveller families are an increasing number of those presenting to City Hall with valid “Notices to Quit” from their private landlords. About half of our city homeless families are from the Traveller community.
That is about 20 families and there are another 10-15 traveller families who are involuntarily sharing with their family of origin, often in overcrowded situations. It must be remembered that there is an equal number of non traveller families in homeless emergency accommodation and many more sharing with family as a desperate last resort.
This crisis is not of any working class families making. This crisis is not the fault of those who find themselves forced to live in a hostel, B&B or hotel. These short term measures, while getting our fellow citizens off the street, do not provide for a stable and dignified housing solution for parents and children.
It is a shameful scandal that our fellow Galway citizens face this homeless crisis, and they ought not to be blamed for the dire straits they find themselves in.
Our particularly high number of Traveller families is related to the city’s well recorded failure as a housing authority to implement our own Traveller Accommodation Plan.
The City Council has not only failed in that but also in the broader need to build social houses on a significant scale for all Galway citizens. The responsibility to address the issue rests with us all.
A recent report from the ERSI, not a radical agency by any means, states that Irish Travellers are ten times more likely to face discrimination compared to other Irish people. That is the startling reality of our society.
Therefore it cannot be a surprise that Travellers make up a disproportionate number of our homeless families. Our own city Housing Department states that they are showing with an increased number of valid Notices to Quit from private landlords.
I am glad, as a local Councillor, to be working with CENA to progress traveller specific accommodation in a fully consultative and community acceptable manner. Projects such as this are the key to reaching a solution. The recent vote in the chamber to advance the building of 152 new social houses will also go some of the way to addressing the many families from all backgrounds on our waiting lists.
We need to build more social houses and not delay further. We also need to have an Affordable Purchase Scheme as a matter of urgency.
We must not blame the children who are housed in emergency accommodation and who desperately hope for a stable home. They deserve a home as do their parents, and that hope is the same regardless of the childs background, colour or origin. It is easier to create division, point a finger of blame than it is to work for a real solution.
We must work together to show real leadership, in a positive and respectful way holding government to account and build social houses, affordable houses and explore cooperative housing solutions. This is hard work, and progress is frustratingly slow, but I will continue to work hard to see this through because the alternative is to do nothing and that is not an option for me.
Mark Lohan is a Sinn Fein member of Galway City Council.