As the Irish economy begins to improve, are we in danger of replicating the mistakes of the Celtic Tiger, asks Rebecca Stone
Homelessness in Ireland: the Facts
- As of late June 2017, the population of known homeless individuals in Ireland stood at 7,941 – the highest number on record.
- The number of homeless families has increased by 27% in the past year.
- 1 in 3 of those in emergency accommodation are children, with the fastest-growing age group in homelessness being those under 4.
- 1,200 people turned to Cork Simon Community for help in 2015 alone.
- Official statistics recorded a 15% rise in the number of under 25s living in emergency accommodation between June 2016 and June 2017. The true figure is likely much higher, as those who squat or couch-surf are not accounted for in government statistics.
- Sources: Focus Ireland (www.focusireland.ie) and Cork Simon Community (www.corksimon.ie)
As many of us will remember, it was not so long ago that Ireland was plunged deep into a recession with the economic downturn of 2008 leaving many jobless, homeless and without much hope for the future. However, in recent months, there has been a change in the financial atmosphere of Ireland, just as there was with the Celtic Tiger. The Boom in the 1990’s brought milk shake shops and sandwich bars to our shores and people from working class backgrounds jetted off to exotic locales and enjoyed a standard of living they hadn’t previously. People were less concerned about saving their money and looking to the future, and this same mentality is beginning to be seen again around Ireland with the emergence of the ‘New Boom’.
As anyone living in Cork or any large town will know, the influx of countless doughnut shops is enough of an indicator to know that the financial woes of the past are beginning to fade, at least for the well-off middle class. Yet, while a new Capitol building is erected in Cork city centre, one can’t help but notice how the poverty situation has remained largely unchanged since the Boom and its subsequent crash. Homelessness in Cork and the rest of Ireland is high, but as more money is being put into new housing developments and businesses, those who sleep on the streets don’t yet feel the benefits of this ‘New Boom’.
As of 2017, over 1,500 people in Cork alone turned to Simon for help due to their being homeless, and the numbers around Ireland are growing ever larger. 13% of those homeless in Cork were 18-26 years old, the same age as many of us in college here.
With every new burrito shop and coffee house opening, the divide between those with money and those without grows ever larger.
As students, we can look forward to new employment opportunities and the prospect of a more secure future, but for those who are unemployed and homeless, looking forward to better times becomes more and more difficult. We can mostly feel safe in the knowledge that we won’t be homeless after we graduate and that we might have a basic but paying job. As was the case with the Celtic Tiger, people with money reaped the benefits of the Boom but even with all our newfound wealth we still can’t seem to tackle the growing problem of poverty and homeless families. The idea of fancy getaways and artisanal restaurants may be what many fantasise about with the rise of the ‘New Boom’, but for the less fortunate in Cork City it may mean finally getting a home or simply a menial job.
One can’t help but notice the rapid construction of new housing estates due to a €97 million investment in the housing market, but it also seems bizarre as many housing developments built during the last boom remain empty. To address a growing housing crisis in the city, the council has enacted schemes to restore these houses and put them up for sale. Perhaps this €97 million investment could be better applied tackling one of, if not the biggest, issues facing the city of Cork presently?
Maybe, though, the new boom will bring about serious social change for Cork City, bringing employment and prosperity back to the area. As new businesses open every week, one can be hopeful about the economic future of Cork, providing us with hope that the problem of poverty can be soon rectified if we do not repeat the mistakes of the Celtic Tiger years. Many remember the devastating economic crash of 2008 which saw many families and individuals turfed out onto the streets. Although some managed to alter their situations, the lack of employment opportunities meant many remained homeless in the city. The gradual emergence of the new boom provides confidence for the people of Cork about the ever-growing poverty crisis in the city, but it is still early days with regards to the benefits of this economic growth. Only time will tell whether we will repeat our actions of the Celtic Tiger, or whether our new prosperity will reach all people equally.