On 29 June, MLRC’s 2015 Annual Report was formally launched by John Curran TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness. To read the report, please click here.
In 2015, there was an increase of 1,700 people who are homeless, an increase of 43%. The most recent figures available, for May 2016, record a further very substantial increase: that there are 6,170 people who are homeless. These include 3,993 adults, 1,054 families and 2,177 children who are homeless. MLRC, in providing free legal help for people who are facing homelessness, is working to the best of our ability to respond to this desperate and unacceptable crisis. In 2015, MLRC provided free legal help to 817 individuals and families who have found themselves in the deep distress of homelessness.
At the launch, MLRC’s Managing Solictor, Maeve Regan noted that MLRC warmly welcomed the Government’s decision to raise substantially rent supplement and HAP to better meet market rent. She noted that the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness in its report published on 17 June, recommended that the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government should bring the deliberations on the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution to a conclusion as quickly as possible by bringing a recommendation on the matter to the Government.
Noting that the Minister for Housing is carefully garnering information from all stakeholders in the area of housing and homelessness to formulate his Action Plan for Housing to be published in August, MLRC’s Managing Solicitor said:
“MLRC is calling on the Minister for Housing to urgently act on the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness that the protection of the right to housing in the Constitution be considered by the new Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and a recommendation be brought to the Government on it.
As the Minister prepares this Action Plan, this is the opportunity to take the next step to put this protection in place. The right to housing would help those who are facing homelessness now and would be a fundamental safeguard against the recurrence of this gravely unacceptable crisis. It would recognise that a home is central to the dignity and potential of every person. The protection of this right would represent and be part of a long-term solution to go alongside short-term remedial measures such as an increase in rent supplement rates.”
Ciara McGrath, a director on the Board of Mercy Law Resource Centre, and Project Leader with Crosscare’s Housing and Welfare Information Service, emphasised the Crosscare’s collaborative work with Mercy Law. She noted that when Crosscare’s very experienced advocates have advocated to the best of their ability for their clients and hit a brick wall, they can turn to MLRC for legal help. Ciara described how these supports are particularly vital as homelessness quickly drains people of the energy to focus on anything but survival. Ciara praised MLRC’s accessible outreach clinics, including MLRC’s newest clinic in Crosscare, Cathedral Street. She said that these clinics bring the law to where people are and provide a light to families in desperate situations.
Sinead Kerin, MLRC solicitor, spoke about the Centre’s clinic advice work and strategic litigation. Recent issues in practice include children whose health and education are affected by homelessness and tenants losing their homes when properties are repossessed from landlords. Sinead also highlighted the extreme deprivation of some clients, in particular those who are members of the Travelling community. In outlining the work of MLRC in representing people who are facing homelessness, Sinead said:
“As with all human beings, our clients are unique and present with a complex web of societal challenges. That being said, common threads join the people who access our service together and show that they are in the main from disadvantaged backgrounds, experience dire poverty and social exclusion, coupled with or a combination of other factors such as limited education, perhaps with a history of addiction, some with family breakdown, mental health issues, job losses, bereavement issues and dependency on social welfare payments as an income are common.
Our clients show tremendous strength and courage in facing their worst fears in having no home and show great resilience and dignity in really dire life circumstances. We meet and lend a respectful ear and try to figure out legally what we can do to assist our clients with, and also what other services may be available to assist the person; this can include referrals to various social service agents, from FLAC, voluntary organizations, Doctors, counsellors to local politicians.”
MLRC warmly welcomed John Curran TD to formally launch the report. Deputy Curran gave an enlightening insight into the workings of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness. He noted that the Committee was set up amid great political uncertainty, during the negotiations around forming a new government in February and March 2016. However, he noted the lack of political divisions among committee members in their approach to the workings and deliberations of the Committee and commended them on their hard work. They heard evidence from a broad range of witnesses (including from MLRC) and also visited Focus Ireland to talk to those who had experienced homelessness. This, he said, brought the committee’s focus to well-being and homes rather than a narrow vision focused on bricks and mortar.
Deputy Curran noted the report’s central recommendations included increasing housing stock, establishing a national Housing Procurement Agency to oversee and drive the work of local authorities, and preventing more people from losing their homes by improving security of tenure. He expressed his hope that the new Committee on Housing would monitor the implementation of the report and continue to tackle the crisis.
Attendees included the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, Oireachtas Housing Committee member Eoin Ó Bróin TD, Sophia Housing CEO Declan Dunne, and representatives from many organisations working with MLRC, such as FLAC, Focus Ireland, De Paul, All Together in Dignity Ireland, and Citizens’ Information Centres. Also present were some of the number of barristers, who have represented and represent our clients, pro bono, instructed by MLRC. MLRC is very grateful to them, for taking on these cases, often working at the cutting edge of law, with urgency and compassion and care, and making these cases possible.
Thank you to John Curran T.D., Ciara McGrath and Sinead Kerins for their insight, inspiration and encouragment, which is of enormous meaning and value to MLRC as we continue in our work to assist those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Thank you also to all those who attended the launch and who give their support for MLRC’s work.