Bishops have called for increased efforts to counter homelessness at their Winter General Meeting which concluded on Wednesday 6 December in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
Bishops said, ‘The most visible manifestation of the homeless crisis – rough sleeping – has seen a marked increase over this winter. According to the Peter McVerry Trust, eight people have died sleeping rough in the last 12 weeks. This is a collective failure of our society to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.
‘In Ireland, 8,300 people are using emergency homeless accommodation, including over 3,000 children and more than 1,400 families. This figure does not include those who are sleeping rough, those who are homeless but who are “sofa surfing”, or those who are involuntarily living with friends or relatives as no alternative accommodation is available to them. The average rent in the Republic has risen by 61% since late 2011. Tens of thousands of people are living with mortgages in arrears and consequently are at risk of losing their home. Energy poverty affects more than 600,000 people across Ireland. These statistics represent individual stories of hardship endured by our sisters and brothers.
‘Bishops ask all people in society, and in particular our policymakers, to recommit themselves to building a society that values human beings, not least, by working for a society that enables all people to live in a decent home. Bishops also expressed concern that the recently announced increases in both energy costs and public transport prices will disproportionately affect the poor, the marginalised and the elderly in our society. Bishops agreed that the implementation of these price increases in the run up to Christmas is particularly harsh.’
They continued, ‘The Church teaches that each person, regardless of his or her economic or social position, racial or faith background, must be treated with full dignity (cf. Gal 3:28). It is an indignity to accept a version of Irish society in which a family lives in an overcrowded B&B, hostel or hotel room; a person sleeps in a wet shopfront in a city centre; or an older couple survive without the means to heat their home. Therefore, each of us has an option, to respect the dignity of all in our society through our actions or to choose to ignore this suffering. This is the choice that faces all of us in today’s Ireland which is approaching full employment. Homelessness, poor housing conditions and energy poverty are largely symptoms of political and economic choices. Something is structurally wrong with a society which allows such a negation of human dignity.’
Bishops expressed their support ‘to those organisations which every day live out the mission of the Gospel in practical terms. Organisations such as Crosscare, the Peter McVerry Trust, Threshold, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Merchants Quay Ireland and the Capuchin Day Centre, Focus Ireland, Simon and the Salvation Army express solidarity with the marginalised and this can mean the difference between human life and death.’
They reiterated their support for the amending of the Constitution of Ireland to include an explicit right to housing, observing that such a provision ‘would make an important contribution to the legal and policy frameworks required to address the inadequacies of the current system.’
Bishops offered prayers for those who are suffering amidst this housing crisis so that, as a society, we can ‘”find Jesus in the faces of others, in their voices, in their pleas” (Evangelii Gaudium 91).’