LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Saying homelessness has reached a “crisis point,” the bishops of Ireland have called on the government to ensure housing is “safe, affordable and appropriate.”
The Irish bishops’ conference issued a pastoral letter on Monday called A Room at the Inn? attempting to address the root causes of homelessness on the island.
In May, government statistics showed there were 9,846 homeless people in Ireland, of which 3,826 were children. Ireland has a population of just over 4.7 million people.
“As the number of people affected by the housing and homelessness crisis increases, we urge a renewed commitment on the part of Government to addressing this crisis. The dignity which, as Catholics, we recognize in every person, must be reflected in the reality of life in our society and it is our belief that safe, affordable and appropriate housing is a human right,” the bishops’ pastoral letter reads.
In the document – which comes in at more than 50 pages – the bishops call for housing to be recognized as a human right and said the provision of housing should not be treated as any other commodity and left solely to the market, adding the government should take action to increase the supply and reduce the price of housing.
They also said the private rental sector needs to ensure fair pricing and offer tenants security, especially in the context of its recent growth at the expense of home ownership and social housing; the bishops also called on the government to consider taxing vacant sites and to close tax loopholes and use compulsory purchase powers to utilize potential sites which lie undeveloped for a lengthy period of time. The bishops said the making of enormous profits through land speculation in housing developments and in maintaining high rents “is particularly damaging to society.”
The bishops also claimed the absence of adequate housing occurs because of the government prioritizing other objectives over the provision of housing “which is necessary for the dignity of the person.”
During the Oct. 1 launch of the document, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, who heads the bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace, said landlords should “examine their consciences as to the extent of profit they make.”
“The magnitude of the problem is so great that it cannot be solved by voluntary effort alone. The state must take the lead partner on this – this cannot be left to the private sector either,” the bishop said.
Doran said state-owned land should not be sold to commercial interests and added that Church-owned land should also be sold “in conjunction” with local government authorities.
The bishop said the Catholic Church has been auditing its properties to make sure it was acting in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
“Local church leadership has to make the decisions about vacant sites and land and we would encourage parish priests to make sure they have a policy in relation to vacant properties which includes the possibility of making it available for housing,” said Doran.
Recently, the Jesuits donated three large Victorian buildings in Dublin to be converted into 16 apartments for public housing.
Father Sean Donohoe, co-director of the Capuchin Day Center in Dublin, was also at the launch. The facility for homeless families was visited by Pope Francis on Aug. 25 when he was in the Irish capital for the World Meeting of Families.
“The day center was opened for a place of shelter but as the needs grow we have responded. For the first while it was just men, and then it was men and women, and now, tragically and horrifically, it’s men, women and children,” he said.
The facility serves between 300 to 350 breakfasts every day, and also provides baby food and diapers for hundreds of families.
Donohoe said the youngest resident was two-weeks-old and the oldest was 92-years-old, and the problem is getting worse.
“The government says it is doing what it can, I believe that they are doing what they can, but I believe the problem is growing quicker than what they are doing. There is need for a more urgent response, it should be given the highest priority,” the priest said.