Last month, Dublin City councillors did something that surprised me.
They voted to reject proposed cuts of nearly €6m to this year’s homeless services budget. Then they went a little further. They voted to increase the budget.
This, despite the fact that the national homeless budget remains the same as last year, and with continuing uncertainty about how funding is distributed.
After more than six years of cutbacks and austerity, this news was greeted with relief by people working in Dublin’s homeless services sector. While lots of IMPACT members had supported Dublin Simon Community’s vigorous campaign to protect services ahead of the Government budget, many feared that further cuts were inevitable. I guess it’s a sign of the times. We’ve come to anticipate reductions, cuts and bad news. Not in a defeatist sense. It just became the established pattern for so long.
That’s why the decision by Dublin City councillors came as such a surprise.
Significantly, it felt like these councillors were sticking up for the city’s most marginalised and vulnerable citizens. They did the right thing and there’s a sense of relief, maybe even gratitude, among our IMPACT colleagues who provide services to the city’s homeless. I’m convinced that the concerted efforts of IMPACT members, and our unified call to oppose homeless budget cuts, played a big part in the decision.
The harsh reality is that this year’s budget will provide services that will come under a lot more pressure in 2014. They are facing two significant problems. First, homelessness is on the increase; Focus Ireland has said that seven people a day are becoming homeless in Dublin. Second, homelessness is becoming a longer term problem because of the growing shortage of available accommodation. There is a shortage of social housing and affordable accommodation in the private rented sector. Dublin and its surrounding areas simply don’t have enough places for people to live.
The main focus of homeless service provision is to help people move out of homelessness and into longer term accommodation. The current shortage makes this increasingly difficult. The agencies involved are all doing excellent work to provide that support. With Dublin now in the grip of sharp rent increases as demand soars for scarcer accommodation, more people are dependent on services for longer. With a limit of six months on emergency accommodation, the pressure on all service providers is immense.
When my union branch talked about this recently, we decided we’d try and do something to build on what those councillors achieved in January. Homeless services will need their budgets protected beyond this year. They’re going to need that support for the next few years and, hopefully, services will begin to come under less pressure as more homes become available to people.
So we decided we’d get out and talk to the people running for election to Dublin’s local authorities in May. We’re going to ask them to pledge to do what the councillors did this year. A pledge to protect the homeless services budget for the next five years of local government.
We don’t think it’s a big ask. People who put themselves forward for elected office do so out of a desire to do some good. We’re appealing to that desire and asking them to pledge their support for this one simple measure.
IMPACT will play its part too, by campaigning at national level to have the homeless services budget restored to 2012 levels, as Focus Ireland and Dublin Simon Community sought in their pre-budget submissions last year.
We’re asking IMPACT members to get involved in this campaign too. Simply ask your local election candidates to make a pledge. #lepledge14. Watch and share our campaign video HERE. And ask yourself, what would you do?
Chair, Boards & Voluntary Agencies branch