Homelessness is a violation of human rights that should not be tolerated. People who are homeless experience social exclusion, poverty and are often prevented from accessing education, job opportunities and mental and physical health care. To raise awareness of the issue of homelessness in Ireland, over 1000 people are sleeping outside in solidarity across the country on 13th October.
Growing homelessness problem
Homelessness is a global problem, affecting people of all ages from all walks of life. On 10 October, many people around the world marked World Homelessness Day, which falls within UN Habitat’s Urban October. The month puts the spotlight on the challenges and opportunities created by the fast rate of change in our cities and towns. One of the challenges facing urban areas is homelessness.
In Ireland, there has been a consistent and persistent rise in homelessness over the last 12 months, according to Jesse Wiesblatt, Head of Campaigns at Focus Ireland, which offers homeless services and housing projects across the country.
“Right now, in Ireland, there are 12,691 people who are homeless, including 1,886 families and 3,895 children whose lives are on hold,” says Jesse Wiesblatt, who adds that the lifting of a ban on no-fault evictions has worsened the situation in the country.
Camping out in solidarity
With demand for their services at an all-time high, Focus Ireland is calling on people across Ireland to help fundraise and create change by sleeping out against homelessness as part of their ‘Shine A Light’ campaign event.
“The work that Focus Ireland is doing to support families experiencing homeless is vital but we can’t do it alone. We need people to come together to take real action to create real change,” details Jesse Wiesblatt.
The campaign calls on business leaders, companies, schools and members of the community including sports and youth clubs to spend “one night of your comfort zone” by sleeping out against homelessness on 13th October. The aim is to raise essential funds for their homeless services and to stand in solidarity with thousands of individuals, families and children experiencing homelessness in Ireland.
Collective action with a big impact
People may feel a pull to participate for many reasons, including their own personal experiences.
Jonathan O’Flynn, a Digital Operations Manager at Bord Gáis Energy, participating for the seventh time this year, shared: “Having lost our family business and home many years ago, this charity is really close to my heart. I urge everyone to support this very worthy cause.”
Since the campaign began over 10 years ago, Shine A Light has raised over €7.1m for people experiencing homelessness in Ireland. It aims to raise €1.2million in 2023.
Funds raised support Focus Ireland’s work, services and support provided to families at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness. Over 16,000 people engaged with their services in 2022, a 30% increase compared to 2022. They offer advice and information, as well as long-term accommodation. Their Focus Ireland Coffee Shop, open 365 days a year, provides, good-quality, affordable meals for people experiencing homelessness in a safe and warm environment.
Treating people who are homeless with respect
“The first way we help people who are homeless is by listening to them and treating them with respect. We see the person first and not the problem,” notes Jesse Wiesblatt.
Part of Urban October is highlighting projects that are helping to create cities and neighborhoods that are more sustainable, and equitable for all residents. Focus Ireland is working towards facilitating more equitable housing opportunities in Ireland. The organisation conducts research and advocates for the rights of people who are homeless, to ensure they remain on the political agenda.
“Focus Ireland believes that homelessness is not inevitable, that it can be solved,” says Jesse Wiesblatt.
Homelessness and the UN
All UN member states, including Ireland, made a commitment to eliminate homelessness in their adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development Goal number 11 states that by 2030 we must, “ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services”.
In July of 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres presented a report on progress and challenges to address homelessness as a result of the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report underscores the importance of establishing a comprehensive and inclusive definition of homelessness, and advocates for policies and strategies that are universal and rooted in human rights principles. Although the awareness of homelessness and policies to combat it are improving, we still need to make substantial efforts.
The Secretary-General’s report recommends that a global target aligned with the SDGs is set to end homelessness, and for expanded intergovernmental efforts. The likelihood of homelessness should be reduced through housing and social policies and by addressing the unique requirements of at-risk groups.
Homelessness is a complex issue, but it can be solved using a people-centered, integrated, preventive, and evidence-based approach.
“To promote the right of everyone to live somewhere security, peace and dignity, we must recognise that homelessness is best addressed by preventing it in the first place and, when it occurs, that the experience is as brief as possible,” the Secretary-General’s report stated.