As we enter 2016 with celebrations of 1916 and another General Election on the horizon; Seán McInerney talks about his experience of homelessness in Limerick, and the profit driven housing crisis at the heart of it.
Usually hotels are places for tourists coming here to see the sights, experience our culture or couples wishing to get away for a weekend or two. In modern capitalist Ireland, they have become a place for the Government to ‘deal’ with huge numbers of homeless families, dumping them in cheap hotel rooms and B&B’s as these people wait for non-existing council houses to become available. The Government’s complete failure and reluctance to help solve the housing crisis has meant that thousands of families around the country have to deal with the daily reality of being crammed into one room with their kids. I know of this through personal experience.
Sadly, my story is a common occurrence in this state. The Landlord kicked us out of our house after 3 months because of leaks we supposedly caused, after a month my two brothers, mother and I were provided a Hotel room. At first we had to move from Hotel to Hotel every few days, as the health clinic would only pay us for a few days at a time. Then my mother requested that we stay in one Hotel, and then the clinic paid weekly for the same Hotel in Limerick city centre. As you can probably imagine, sleeping in the same small room as your mother and brothers, that consists of three beds, a table, a TV and a bathroom is definitely not great at any time, to make matters worse, I was doing my leaving cert at the time.
My day consisted of getting up, getting dressed, leaving the Hotel, going to school, after to school going to one of my friend’s house, trying to avoid having to go back to the room. After leaving it as late as I can possibly leave it, I returned to our room, where a takeaway was ordered for us to have something to eat, as there was obviously nowhere to cook anything in the room. This cycle repeated, every day for seven months. My mother used to always run out of money after three or four days of being paid, so she ran up a constant debt every week, paying them when she got paid again. birthdays, Easter and my graduation were all celebrated in a Hotel room. Through all this, we could not find any suitable house for us. Rents were going up, many houses did not accept Rent allowance, and the rest were being filled almost immediately. We often viewed a house with few other potential tenants. And all the while, the Government were heralding the so-called recovery, that the worst was over, and things were getting better. As my family and I were living in a Hotel, like many others around Ireland, less than 20 council houses were built nationwide. There were more than 5,000 people on the housing waiting list in Limerick, and more than 100,000 across the state, the government refuses to deal with this emergency in housing, completely ignoring the issue.
The private rental market cannot and will not solve the Homeless crisis, yet the State consistently holds it up as the solution, creating schemes such as HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) in order to push people on the housing waiting list into its hands. Why? Is it because one quarter of the TD’s in the Dail are Landlords? Is it because the government genuinely believe that the free market can solve the Homeless crisis? Or is it because we live in an age of neo-liberal austerity, designed to transfer wealth to the richest in our society at the cost of the poorest, to make profits for Denis O’Brien and co. from our increasing hardships? The latter is what I consider the truth, with the Rich deliberately withholding property to drive up rents and house prices, with the construction of modular homes by Denis O’Brien (surprise, surprise!) as a supposed solution to the Housing crisis. The private market has proven, over and over, that it is completely incapable in solving the Housing Crisis. What is needed is a mass Social Housing building campaign to house the tens of thousands seeking a roof over their head. This would require nationalising the construction industry and seizing the 100,000’s of vacant homes, including NAMA homes given to the private market to sell, for Social Housing. These measures would undoubtedly mean a conflict with the economic interests of the 1% and the EU. A genuine Left government would therefore need to break with the capitalist system and bring the top industries into democratic public ownership.
Seán is a Socialist Party activist who is active in the anti water charges campaign in Limerick City.