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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Catholic Church urges Irish Government to step up homelessness crisis response

The Catholic Church has called for the Irish Government to step up its response to the growing homelessness crisis saying it cannot be left to the voluntary sector.

A pastoral letter, launched this week at the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, addresses housing and homelessness and describes the root causes of the crisis.

The letter details 18 key findings and calls for a number of measures including fair pricing and security in the private rental sector, vacant sites to be taxed and action to be taken to increase the supply and reduce the price of housing.

At its autumn general meeting, the bishops’ conference said the Government is struggling to tackle the growing homelessness crisis.

One bishop said some landlords should “examine their consciences as to the extent of profit they make”.

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, acting chairman of the Council for Justice and Peace, added: “This is not just a problem for Dublin, but a problem that faces all of us in society.

“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.”

Fr Sean Donohoe, co-director of homelessness charity Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, said it is not the responsibility of the Church to solve the homelessness crisis.

“It’s the responsibility of the state of civic society through our governmental process,” he said.

“We do from 300 to 350 breakfasts every day and this morning we gave out baby food and nappies to 250 families.

“The day centre 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.

“Our youngest was about two weeks old and oldest is 92 and it’s everybody in between, for all different reasons.

“It is getting worse and 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.”

As part of its recommendations, the Church calls for compulsory purchase powers to “utilise potential sites” which lie undeveloped for a long period of time.

Mr Doran accepted the church is not exempt from these recommendations and said it has been undertaking an audit of its properties and assets.

He said: “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.”

Fr Donohoe added that church properties around Dublin have been donated and are used by homelessness charities.

He added: “Our numbers are growing and the Government is not on top of it and they have acknowledged that.

“The crisis isn’t over and it hasn’t hit the high point yet.”

Picture: Bishop Kevin Doran (left) and Fr Sean Donohoe at the launch of a pastoral letter on housing and the homeless crisis in Ireland, at Maynooth College in Maynooth. (John McElroy/PA).