Homeless Housing: No Room at the Inn

IT IS ALMOST five years now since Dr Dermot Ryan, newly installed as Archbishop of Dublin, decided that housing the homeless would be his primary social concern.
In January, 1973, he callled in Dr Eamonn Casey, then Bishop of Kerry, as a special adviser on how the Dublin archdiocese could help Dublin's homeless. The ebullient Dr Casey had a report on Dr Ryan's desk within three weeks, and in April, 1973, Dr Ryan called a press conference at which he announced the formation of the Bethlehem Foundaation. It would, he declared, accept land donated from reeligious orders to build 'halffway houses' for young workking class families stranded on the city's lengthy housing list. Bill Darmon was ennticed from his work with Shelter in London, made Director of the foundation, and given extensive staff and office facilities in the Red House in Clonliffe College.

As a result of that press conference, Dr Ryan was called a 'socially aware bishop by the London Times and, for a period, seemed the bright young star among
Irish bishops.

Five years have passed and not one house has been built by the Bethlehem Founndation. First of all, none of the religious communities were at all forthcoming with donations for the project. As their numbers and their traditional financial sources diminished, most orders connsidered their surplus land as their only protective hedge against inflation. It wasn't until February, 1977, that the Foundation was given land by the Dominican Sisters in Cabra, and Dr Ryan then announced that he would donate several acres from the Clonliffe estate in Drummcondra. But the problems were only beginning for an organization which had allready cost more than £75,000 in office rent and wages.

The proposed developpment in Clonliffe ran into immediate planning difficullties because the College is zoned in a green belt area, and the announcement that building would commence before the end of 1977 has proved all too wrong. The building contractors have not even been chosen yet and Mr Darmon is at present involved in negotiations in Cabra with the Navan Road clergy and the Dominican Sisters about the use of their property. It seems unnlikely that there will be any houses ready for occuupation by the end of this year.

1979 might be a better bet. For even if the objecctions of the residents in Drumcondra and Cabra are pacified and the specificaations of both the Dublin Corporation and the Dominiican Sisters are met, the Foundation has yet to raise the necessary funds. They have sought top-level grants from the Corporation and one wonders why the land and the responsibility for building houses isn't simply given directly to the Corrporation.

The Foundation is hoping for grants for 90% of the building costs, including local authority and Government aid. It is unfortunate that Dr Ryan, far from his early euphoria, has not allowed Sunday church collections in his huge diocese to raise money for the housing scheme, despite the fact that one collection for a single

Sunday, for each of Bethleehem's five years, would have netted at the very least £500,000. Behind Dr Ryan's refusal lies SHARE, his weekkly collection of money for building new churches in the diocese. This fund has reefused other worthy charities access to Sunday collections, and as the diocesan debt reaches £10 million, it is unlikely that the Foundation will be subsidized.