Housing crisis now ‘acute health crisis’ for homeless people, law centre warns

Housing crisis now 'acute health crisis' for homeless people, law centre warns

Rebecca Keatinge

Ireland’s housing crisis is now “an acute health crisis” for vulnerable people in homeless accommodation or overcrowded housing, the Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC) has warned.

Welcoming plans to ban evictions and freeze rents for three months in response to the coronavirus outbreak, managing solicitor Rebecca Keatinge told Irish Legal News that the pandemic “requires extraordinary measures to be taken” to protect people in or facing housing crisis.

The independent law centre, which operates across Dublin, has supported more than 8,000 people in areas such as social housing and social welfare law since it was established in 2009. Its staff and volunteer solicitors supported over 1,380 people in 2018 alone.

Ms Keatinge said: “The majority of our clients are currently in homeless accommodation or overcrowded housing conditions. We are extremely concerned about their welfare.

“In reality, the majority of our clients cannot self-isolate and self-care during this crisis. For many of them, their housing crisis is now an acute health crisis.”

She said the law centre welcomes “any move to effect a moratorium on evictions”, but added: “We look forward to carefully reviewing any draft emergency legislation to ensure it goes far enough and that it will effectively protect those most at risk.

“We call on the Government to ensure social housing tenants and those in transitional and emergency accommodation are protected from eviction and any instability or uncertainty in their accommodation.”

Mercy Law Resource Centre has “persistently highlighted the failure of the Government to provide safe, secure and dignified homeless accommodation to vulnerable individuals and families”, she noted.

In a research report published last December, the law centre set out six areas of concern in relation to homeless accommodation provision to families, in particular the continued reliance on hotels and B&Bs to provide emergency accommodation for homeless families.

Ms Keatinge said: “In this crisis, we see so clearly that hostels, hubs and hotels are not homes, they offer no security or privacy to homeless people. Our clients, particularly those with underlying medical issues, are scared and everything must be done to alleviate that fear.

“We welcome urgent measures being taken to provide housing security at this uncertain time and hope that there will be lasting lessons from this pandemic in relation to how we meet the housing needs of our most vulnerable.”

The law centre is continuing to respond to urgent new cases, providing consultations by telephone and continuing to advocate and provide legal representation on their behalf.

“We will be sharing information sheets next week on key housing rights including in relation to rental payments, evictions and access to social housing supports,” Ms Keatinge said.

“We will provide regular updates on access to rent supports and any changes to existing tenancy protections. In the midst of this crisis, our staff are working hard to support our vulnerable clients and are contactable and responsive to their needs.”

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