On world homeless day, MLRC takes the opportunity to reflect on 10 years of service and to sincerely thank our supporters and funders who have enabled our impactful work with vulnerable clients. MLRC was delighted this year to be joined by the Honourable Mr Justice Frank Clarke, Chief Justice, who joined us in September 2019 to look back at the work of MLRC over the last ten years.
The demand for our service has grown beyond what the founders of MLRC could have ever anticipated. In the first year of establishment, MLRC assisted 270 individuals. By 2018, this number had sharply risen to 1,381. Since establishment in 2009, MLRC has provided free legal advice and representation to just over 9,300 individuals and families caught in the crisis of homelessness.
As the housing crisis has deepened, MLRC has seen an increasing number of vulnerable families accessing our service, presenting in distressing circumstances and struggling to access safe and secure accommodation. In 2018 alone, MLRC provided free legal advice and representation to 452 families nationwide. This accounted for 36% of families who were recognised as homeless by the State in December 2018.
Our policy work continues to focus on bringing broader change to the legal and policy framework so that it better protects our vulnerable clients. Whilst MLRC welcomes the Government’s commitment to address the homelessness crisis and the modest progress made further to the Government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan, MLRC continues to call for stronger and more immediate action to tackle the completely inappropriate emergency accommodation for children and families.
In June this year, we again addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee this time on child and family homelessness. We raised serious concerns about the provision of completely inappropriate emergency accommodation to families, highlighting in particular the plight of some eighty families who are only accommodated on a one night basis only, having to move every day, disrupting family life, access to education and medical services. In 2019, we plan to address this further in our policy and publish a report which will address barriers facing minority groups in access housing and housing supports. This work is kindly funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.
Nearly every day, we engage on new cases where damage is being done to homeless children. As well as pursuing individual remedies, MLRC is taking an innovative approach to address concerns about the detrimental impact on children of their homeless accommodation provision. We are currently drafting a collective complaint under the European Social Charter to bring the State to task on their failure to meet the needs of homeless children.
MLRC continues to work in partnership, using our expertise and niche service to empower other organisations to support their clients. In 2018, we developed new partnerships with the Dochas Centre and Exchange House Ireland National Traveller Service. Our pro bono partnership with A&L Goodbody solicitors flourished during the year. The support of ALG solicitors enabled MLRC to considerably expand our reach. MLRC continues to develop a network of partners to expand our reach and enhance the impact of our service.
MLRC recognises that the legal system can be alienating, difficult and frustrating to negotiate. Therefore alongside our legal service and to fully assist our clients, in 2019, MLRC is restructuring our befriending programme to address the needs of our most vulnerable clients. As part of our befriending programme, volunteers are available to befriend clients and provide them with emotional and practical support as they go through the difficult process of trying to assert their rights. MLRC are most grateful to Community Foundation of Ireland and Dublin City Council for their provision of funding which will enable us to carry out this restructuring.
Looking to the future, MLRC will continue to work to assist the most vulnerable persons on the margins of society to assert their rights. MLRC will do this in line with our Strategic Plan 2019 – 2024 which was adopted by our Board in May 2019. Our core objectives for the coming period are:
- Continuing our provision of free, accessible and effective legal advice and representation to those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless;
- Offering much needed legal support and training to stakeholder organisations working on homelessness, social housing and related social welfare law
- Effecting positive policy and social change for its client group, grounded in MLRC’s casework and research;
- Providing a befriending service to benefit clients who are particularly without supports.
At our recent event, the Honourable Mr Justice Frank Clarke, Chief Justice, recognized the need for MLRC’s committed and focused service, which is embedded in the community and provides a vital first step in access to justice. The Chief Justice stated that there is a compelling case for an increase of provision in legal aid and alongside this the need for specialist services that are accessible to communities. He said that the scope of legal aid needs to be deepened and broadened.
On world homeless day, we would like to sincerely thank our supporters and funders who have enabled our work over the last ten years. We also thank our clients, who show greater resilience in most difficult circumstances. Support from funders and the trust of our clients has brought MLRC on the journey from the early years, to this point of maturing into a thriving law centre, engaged and established within the sector, a respected voice on policy and a lifeline for many homeless individuals and families. For a more comprehensive overview of MLRC work over the past ten years and in 2018, please see our 2018 Annual Report and our 10 Year Impact Report.