Limerick honour for champion of the homeless

Fr Peter McVerry speaking as he was presented with the McAuley Medal by President Higgins at Mary Immaculate College.

THE Peter McVerry housing and homeless charity hopes to provide homes for 54 people in Limerick before Christmas as it continues to provide long term accommodation for people hit by homelessness.

The worst ever housing crisis has left its mark on Shannonside, where, according to data from Limerick City and County Council, 159 individuals and 80 families including 158 children, were forced into emergency accommodation.

Many more are considered “hidden homeless”, sleeping on couches, or on the streets, or in overcrowded dwellings in disadvantaged areas of the city and county.

Fr Peter McVerry, director of the Peter McVerry Trust, said despite the country’s record high level of homeless, people have “lost their outrage” over the issue and have become desensitised to the crisis.

The 78 year-old social justice campaigner acknowledges the government’s commitment to ending homelessness, but says there appeared to be “little sense of urgency or any sense of crisis in dealing with it”.

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“We need to recover that sense of outrage, we need to get angry again, we need to be angry at the level of homelessness that exists in this country – one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” Fr McVerry said.

The Belfast-born cleric was speaking at Mary Immaculate College (MIC) in Limerick, before he was presented with the college’s prestigious McAuley Medal by President Michael D Higgins for his life-long dedication to helping people on the margins of society.

“A lot more can be done – it’s not hopeless by any means. I think the housing minister is committed to trying to address this problem effectively. I just don’t see any sense of urgency or any sense of crisis in dealing with it,” he said.

“Dealing with it requires a lot of different agencies to work together and I think that is proving very difficult to achieve.”

“I think we have become desensitised to homelessness. I remember I gave a talk about eight years ago and I said we were entering into a tsunami of homeless people. The figure I mentioned was 5,000 and I was ridiculed at the time.”

“But when it passed 5,000, it made all the news headlines. A few years later it passed 10,000 and it got a few little reports on the inside pages of newspapers.

“Now it is a record 11,300 and it barely causes a ripple. So it has become normalised and we have become used to it. We have lost our sense of outrage.

“We are not running hostels in Limerick. We don’t want to run hostels as they are not a solution to homelessness. They get people off the street, and that’s important, but we are committed to providing long-term housing for homeless people,” Fr McVerry explained.

“We have about 40 long-term housing units in Limerick which are occupied, and another 100 on the way, including 14 in Moyross, which should be ready by Christmas.

“We prefer to take old buildings or derelict sites and bring them back into use, because then you are not competing with first-time buyers.”

Delivering a clear Christmas wish-list to government, Fr McVerry said the government also needs to ensure local councils play their part by redeveloping old and vacant buildings.

“They know what I want, and I think we could do far better. For example, Waterford City and County Council brought 45 empty buildings back into residential use over the past 18 months. However many local authorities brought none back into use.

“If every local authority did what Waterford did, we could have another 1,200 to 1,500 units every year becoming available.”

Fr McVerry praised Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien’s commitment to the construction of 5,000 modular units for those in need.

“If Government proposals are passed to make it illegal for properties to be advertised on Airbnb if the unit is not properly registered, it could bring another 10,000 to 15,000 units back into use immediately,” he added.

President Higgins embraces Fr Peter McVerry after presenting him with the McAuley Medal at Mary Immaculate College.