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Fifth Year Runner Up: Isabelle Tierney of Mount Anville Secondary School, Co. Dublin

Whose responsibility is it to combat the homelessness crisis: government or charity?

I found this topic intriguing, as my first thought was can either of these establishments hold such an immense responsibility as this. Should we, the public, not be the ones combatting this growing crisis? But how can we aid those forced to live on our streets? If every person in the country gave a helping hand in ending this crisis, it would be over far more swiftly. It is the people’s responsibility, but how can the public help these people? The answer is simple: through organisations created to care for these people with aid provided by the general population. Hence, I believe the responsibility to combat this crisis lies with charity, not government.

Although it is the government’s duty to deal with this issue, it is also their duty to deal with the numerous other problems facing our country: social and economic. Governments must deal with the ever-increasing number of nationwide issues such as poverty, discrimination, the recent flooding catastrophe, and of course the overall economic state that we are in. I could write out the entire list of predicaments, but then again, I could also write out the growing list of homeless charities who strive to tackle this crisis that has overwhelmed our country today. This is why I believe it is the responsibility of charity to tackle this homelessness crisis, and in this essay I will outline my main reasons why.

Now, although Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy speaks a strong argument on the issue, the rent supplement limit can actually be increased. The Community Welfare Service “has statutory discretionary power to award or increase a Rent Supplement payment, for example, when dealing with a person who is in danger of homelessness.” This is a direct quote from their website, and hence I find her criticism of the government to be too harsh, and misleading to those uninformed who read it. However, the key reason I believe it is the responsibility of charity to tackle the crisis is the undeniable truth that the government cannot deal with one vastly important aspect of the crisis: the needs of the individual. It is physically impossible for the government to deal with the needs of every sole individual who is homeless or in danger of homelessness. However charities have the resources to address each individual case which, although time-consuming, helps diminish the problem one by one. Unfortunately, this homelessness crisis cannot be dealt with overnight, and there is very little the government can do to speed up the process either.

The government can deal with the crisis as a general issue by providing accommodation for the homeless on a temporary basis, but they cannot support an individual enough to get them back on their feet. All they can provide is financial aid, whereas charities can provide advice and counselling to the individual that will educate them to survive on their own. Homelessness does not only create financial difficulties, but also psychological problems. It is important that all the needs of an individual dealing with homelessness are met, such as helping them deal with any psychological issues they may have encountered. Even a day on the streets can have vast negative effects on a person’s mental health, and it is important that those affected by homelessness have a means of seeking psychological health if they need it. I believe that the government cannot provide this.

Secondly, charities have a direct link to the public, meaning that through the financial and manpower aid the general population can give, the crisis can most definitely be combatted. As many victims of homelessness have said, the information and aid provided to them by volunteers of these charities has helped them immensely and taught them how to live independently. Do you believe they would receive the same tremendous effectiveness with the current government schemes of emergency accommodation and rent supplement programmes? A number of homeless people may become too dependent on financial aid and struggle to return to a normal life where they provide their own means of income. Only charities can give them the irreplaceable and valuable gifts of advice and teaching, which creates not only financial aid, but personal and emotional support.

In my opinion, we must deal with the homelessness crisis similarly to the way in which we work to end poverty in the Third World. Emergency aid is only given in times of desperate and urgent need, such as during natural disasters, to tackle the immediate problems facing the victims. On the other hand, we give development aid to those affected by general poverty, because they do not need a lump sum or cheque to keep them going. They need to be educated in how to become self-sufficient, and the money given is invested in infrastructure, education and feeding programmes, not as a house or cheque. This way, these people learn how to work and live self-sufficiently, and move away from the vicious cycle of poverty.

In my opinion, government aid in this crisis resembles that of emergency aid in the Third World. Is giving a homeless person emergency accommodation or a financial benefit making any difference in the long-term? I believe the answer is no, that it is only creating a short-term solution for a long-term issue. The government cannot be expected to be given this responsibility and create an immediate resolution for it, as there is no one solution that could be used to solve the problem across the entire country. That is why there are several voluntary organisations receiving government funding to provide assistance and accommodation for homeless people. The government is trying its best to help these charitable organisations because they know that only these organisations can tackle and end this crisis.

The help and aid charitable organisations can provide is the development aid these people need to break out of homelessness and never look back because they know how to deal with any problems should they arise in the future. Homelessness is a vicious cycle that cannot be broken simply with financial contributions or free housing provided by the government. Charitable organisations tackle the lifelong psychological effects and issues that this ordeal can create. These are the effects that stop an individual from continuing on with their lives once they are no longer homeless, and only charity can fix this. Hence, this is why I strongly believe these charitable organisations are better equipped and deserve the responsibility to combat this crisis.