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Friday 14 December 2018

'Government not giving homeless the priority they deserve' - McVerry

Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry blames the State
Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry blames the State

The head of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive has backtracked on her controversial comments about homelessness, saying she could have used "better language".

Eileen Gleeson was roundly condemned for questioning the validity of "ad hoc" groups that give out food and tents to homeless people.

She said such action did not assist in the long term due to the "bad behaviour" of the homeless who were "quite happy to continue with the chaotic lifestyle they have".

Ms Gleeson has now said she "could have probably used better language".

"While the volunteer services are doing a great job...they're not necessarily getting people to the outcome that's needed, which is to get them out of homelessness," she said.

Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar labelled Ireland's homelessness as "one of the lowest by international standards". He was backed by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

These comments, and those of Ms Gleeson, have caused outrage among aid workers.

Insult

Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said: "The problem of homelessness is primarily due to a failure of government.

"These people are leaders and it doesn't give you any confidence the Government is giving homelessness the priority it deserves.

"Eileen Gleeson said homelessness doesn't happen overnight. Not true, and it's not because of bad behaviour.

"This is an insult to the parents of 3,124 children who are homeless because they can't afford to pay for private rental accommodation and there's no social housing for them. They are homeless because of Government policy.

"Once you blame people for becoming homeless any empathy dissolves and it becomes a homeless person's problem, not yours. Every day since the Taoiseach entered office, 15 new people have represented as homeless."

Fr McVerry said it was a "good thing" people were providing food and drink to those on the streets because it was "the only bit of hope" they had.

Meanwhile, the housing minister has been accused of "PR spin" after visiting rough sleepers, just days after downplaying the homeless crisis.

His unofficial visit came after Fine Gael politicians aimed to shift the political emphasis of the crisis, currently affecting 8,374 people, including 3,124 children.

Fr McVerry said Mr Murphy's visit to the homeless would have to be repeated for six months to have "any effect".

"He should go out with the Taoiseach and Ms Gleeson, to speak to homeless people to help them shape real policies because Enda Kenny went out for a night with the homeless and it didn't change a thing."

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said statements from the Taoiseach, ministers and housing experts in recent days seemed a "co-ordinated effort to downplay homelessness".

"Everything the Taoiseach and his ministers do is about PR spin, led by this propaganda department they set up at the taxpayers' expense.

"The State has built only 1pc of the social housing needed," she added.

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