The enlargement of the European Union, which occurred with much fanfare during Ireland’s EU presidency, has produced one wholly avoidable tragedy – a very big increase in people from the Accession States finding themselves homeless in Ireland when they moved in search of a better life, Alice Leahy, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST, said at the weekend. Delivering the key note address at the national conference in Castlebar of the representative body for carers – Caring for Carers Ireland – Alice Leahy said that urgent action was needed to avoid this unnecessary suffering and we must not be afraid to openly discuss this problem out of some misguided sense of political correctness.

“The growth in the number of people becoming homeless from the EU Accession States has served to draw attention to the serious problems that already existed in how we seek to deal with the problem of homelessness in Ireland. The Irish government has for sometime pursued a policy of privatisation of the social and homeless services as more and more responsibility and resources have been diverted to voluntary agencies to save money. This policy has meant that once prophetic voices have been lost as agencies in receipt of funds seek to work within the system as they see no other way”, Alice Leahy said.

Reform is urgently needed, Alice Leahy said, and it is inexcusable after so many years of prosperity that the most fundamental human right of all, the right to be treated with dignity and respect is denied quite unnecessarily to so many. “One very practical initiative which Dublin City Council’s Housing Department is currently resisting, and which would prevent many immigrants from falling into homelessness and unemployment, is the provision of public showers. The right to wash is about as basic a right one could imagine. However, when you consider that such facilities would allow people trying to integrate and get a job, keep appointments etc., you realise just how costly in human and monetary terms this failure is and it comes about because people in frontline caring roles are not listened to,” she said.

TRUST intends to vigorously pursue the public showers initiative as part of its rights based approach in advancing the needs and interests of people who are homeless which will be of benefit to both immigrants and those in the indigenous population. Alice Leahy pointed out that: “it is not only people who find themselves homeless on the street who need showers because there are thousands of people now living in substandard accommodation because of the shortage of affordable housing in Dublin. Their needs must be addressed and it can easily be appreciated how better able to cope they will be with the provision of this type of service made widely available to the public and it would as our submission highlights, be a service one should expect in a modern EU capital city”.

Meanwhile, the Homeless Agency is hosting conferences with people such as President George Bush’s Adviser on Homelessness, underlining how out of touch many running the state services have become Alice Leahy said. “Even the language used to describe the current situation, riddled with jargon and management speak with a heavy emphasis on quantitative performance indicators and benchmarks that have only served to devalue the time spent caring for people. In other words, those who take time with vulnerable and often damaged people are made to feel they are wasting time with them instead of being applauded for giving them the real help they need.”

“There is too much emphasis on research and reports with the numbers employed directly or indirectly in these activities probably greater than the numbers sleeping rough every night in Dublin,” Alice Leahy said. “We need to know the scale of the problem but the effort in finding out cannot be allowed to become an end itself. We must recognise that the most important types of roles that must be filled are with people capable of working with those who need help, many of whom are described as “difficult”. Increasingly as front line caring roles have been downgraded and the emphasis has been on redefining the nature of homelessness to suit the people prepared to work in the sector the problem has got worse. Jobs with vulnerable people cannot move up the value chain because the reasons people become homeless are the same as they have always tended to be with increased numbers struggling with drug addiction in an increasingly violent city.”

“The ethos of many agencies is changing, open door policies are under threat here as in the U.K. because they cannot cope with the numbers showing up from the EU Accession States. Our own service is under great pressure for the same reason because we attempt to give time to people, to ensure quality of care, and it is increasingly difficult to do so. If we are serious in addressing the needs of Ireland’s outsiders we must place much greater priority on caring and those capable and willing to work with the most vulnerable. They can be helped to return to society but only if those who are able and willing to spend time in helping them back are allowed to spend that time instead of being made to feel they are wasting time with people,” ALICE LEAHY said.