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Sixth Year Runner Up: Joseph Chaplin of Ardscol Rís, Limerick

Although seemingly innocuous, the above Helen Keller quote belies a simple, profound wisdom: in this life, the only way we can solve anything is by banding together as a unified spirit. The homeless crisis currently stands at up to 5000 individual cases per year, catastrophic by any metric. When so pressing an issue as the current homelessness crisis affects our society, we cannot sit back and point fingers. We cannot stand upon a soap box and assign responsibility, and we certainly cannot assign guilt. That is my essential response to the question of whose responsibility it is to tackle the homeless crisis - all of us. In times of crisis such as this, it is imperative that we do all we can to support the combined efforts of our charities and our government, contentious though it may be. When we put aside current superfluous issues, and band together in aid of a greater cause, that is when we will build a better tomorrow for our suffering homeless population.

So moralistic a stance as mine cannot, however, neglect that our government has not done nearly enough to combat homelessness across the board. Despite a pledge in 2014 to eradicate the crisis by the end of 2016, the last year saw a 76% increase in homeless families to 707 and a 73% increase in homeless children to 1496. It does not take even a rudimentary understanding of economics to realise that such figures (reported by the Department of the Environment in September 2015) pose a major challenge to the government’s proposed goals. Just as Sister Stanislaus Kennedy outlines in the prompt, this is yet another example of how the government has yet to take the necessary responsibility in dealing with the homelessness crisis. Minister Brendan Howlin’s plan to tackle what he referred to on Budget Day as a “key priority” includes the construction of 9500 units of social housing by 2018, but as Focus Ireland’s own Director of Advocacy, Mike Allen attests, this is simply not enough. So long-term a plan neglects the rapidly increasing homeless population, which Mr. Allen warns will have “doubled yet again to over 1500 families and up to 3000 children by the time we reach budget day next year”. What Mr. Allen’s grim prediction highlights is the necessity of both government and charity organisations coming together to take a combined responsibility for the homelessness crisis. As it stands, the factions divided can only lead to the issue spiralling further out of control.

The issue of finances is always a touchy subject, but it is of course a necessary one. If a more concrete, tangible level of responsibility is to be taken by the government, as well as by charities, to combat the homelessness crisis, then it is paramount that greater financial responsibility be taken. Minister Howlin also outlined in the 2015/16 Budget that an additional €17 million would be made available to tackle homelessness, bringing the total number to €70 million. While this is an increase of 55% on last year, Focus Ireland reported in 2014 that the cut in Government spending on homelessness from the years 2008 to 2012 came to 72%, a fall from €1.38 billion to €390 million. No matter how one slices it, those are lamentable figures, and the reductions since then have only served to bolster the argument that more must be done to combat homelessness.

However, the responsibility of charities where finance is concerned cannot go unscrutinised. Recent reports regarding government spending on homelessness also reveal that of the thirteen major homelessness charities operating in Ireland, only five have applied for funding from the Housing Finance Agency. Amongst the eight approved charities that have not applied for funding are Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust, the two largest homelessness organisations in Ireland. This is a concerning fact, and it indicates a major lack of responsibility on the part of the people who should be doing the most to combat homelessness in Ireland. Neither of the major factions - government and charity - appear to be doing enough alone to combat the escalating homelessness crisis where finances are concerned. Sr. Kennedy’s own criticism in the prompt, of the Government’s lack of increase to the rent supplement, holds considerable weight, but the fact of the matter becomes quite clear from the above facts. While both sides are making progressive movements to combat the homelessness crisis, there is major benefit to reap in the coming together of the two to combat homelessness in Ireland with a united front. The responsibility of resolving the homelessness crisis can therefore fall upon a coalition of private charities and the publically-accountable government, the most efficient way to both save money on internal costs and maximise that spent on the homelessness crisis itself.

Like any great issue in life, the homelessness crisis will most quickly be resolved through unification - in this case, unification of government and charity. There need not be acrimonious barbs flung from either side, a practice that only neglects the homeless population. If both government and charity were to unite, the shared responsibility of resolving homelessness would, like any burden upon society, be alleviated far sooner. Teamwork is the foundation of any functioning society, and the sooner our leaders in combatting homelessness come together with a common goal, the sooner society will be relieved of its currently stressful responsibility towards an ever-increasing homeless population. This makes clear my response to the prompt, and my solution to the question - the responsibility of resolving our homelessness crisis lies equally with both government and charity, and the only fashion in which that can be accomplished is together. We should not forget the lessons we are taught from youth - compassion, teamwork and acceptance. When both government and charities realise that these are the principles by which we live and die, that is when we shall see the acceptance of responsibility in the battle against homelessness.