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Irish housing chief says homelessness is ‘normal’

Housing agency boss says emotion must be removed from the debate about the problem

Conor Skehan, the chair of the Republic of Ireland’s Housing Agency, has been condemned for describing homelessness as “a normal thing.”

Skehan told RTE’s Moring Ireland radio show: “Homelessness is a dreadful thing when it happens to someone, but it is a normal thing, it happens.”

Rejecting the term “crisis,” the government advisor explained: “When we started to realise we are the same as all the other countries in Europe, we start to take the emotion out of this argument, because emotion is the enemy of this.”

Critics accused him of complacency, pointing to the nation’s official statistics that show a rising number of homeless people.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the government was attempting to “minimise” a growing “emergency.”

Might the housing chief have a point?

Skehan suggested that handwringing and continual talk of crisis might be a barrier to coming up with solutions to ease the problem.

“The word “normal” is the enemy of the word “crisis,” but once you normalise it you can start to give people challenges to ask are we dealing with this as effectively as we could do,” he said.

We have a low level of homelessness compared to our peer’s countries

The row follows a claim made by the Republic of Ireland’s new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (pictured above) that the country has a “low level” of homelessness compared with other countries around the world.

“That is a good thing in Ireland, that we have a low level of homelessness compared to our peer’s countries,” Varadkar said.

Niamh Randall of the Irish homelessness charity the Simon Community insisted “the narrative must be challenged.”

Randall said it was difficult to compare the Republic of Ireland with other nations because the number of people officially counted as homeless did not include rough sleepers, reflecting only those in emergency accommodation.

Just over 8,300 homeless children and adults were found to be living in emergency accommodation by the Department of Housing in September, a slight increase on the previous month.

Photo: European People’s Party, licensed under Creative Commons

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