Causes of Family Homelessness in the Dublin Region during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Author: Haley Curran
While Covid-19 upended life as know it in 2020, this global disaster has been slowly but surely subsiding. With the roll-out of new vaccines, economies, and societies, have reopened. However, one of the more problematic issues pre-Covid, the use of emergency accommodation to house people experiencing homelessness, is again being used at a much higher rate in the last year. This contrasts with progress that was made from late 2019 until April 2021. During this time (November 2019- April 2021), family homelessness had reduced by 45%. Single adult homelessness continued to rise during the pandemic and has been discussed in another Focus Ireland blog here.
In the early days of the pandemic, good will and efficient, swift action from Government resulted in collaborative policies across Health and Housing being implemented to great effect. Some of these new initiatives included rent protections, including a ban on evictions and a rent freeze during level 5 lockdowns. In this emergency context Ireland was one of the leaders and this resulted in relatively low levels of infection and mortality rates amongst a vulnerable homeless population. The rates of family homelessness also dropped over the first two years of the pandemic, most likely due to the rent protections in place, as well as availability of properties such as Air BnBs and holiday homes.
However, families and individuals were still becoming homeless during this time, and their experiences were captured for Focus Ireland’s recent ‘Insights into Family Homelessness’ research. This research was a point in time analysis of a small proportion of the families that entered homelessness during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic (March 2020- August 2021). These 14 families generously shared their experiences of what it was like to live in emergency accommodation, such as hotels and family hubs, during a global pandemic. Focus Ireland’s recent ‘Insights into Family Homelessness’ research.
For all participants in this study, they had become homeless due to a relationship breakdown of some kind. This included overcrowding, or tensions with a family member, a relationship breakdown with a partner, or fleeing their private rented tenancy due to domestic violence from their partner and fears for their safety. This differed to previous findings in the Insights into Family Homelessness research, where the main causes of homelessness for families was due to a landlord selling up, renovation on the property, a landlord needing the property for a family member, or rent affordability issues. This is a strong indicator of the impact of the ban of evictions in preventing family homelessness from the private rented sector. For most families in this survey, this was their first-time experiencing homelessness, and over a third of them had never lived outside of their parental home before.
Participants were asked about the conditions of their emergency accommodation and the majority had negative experiences which impacted both their mental and physical health. There were restrictions in some accommodation, families only allowed out for an hour a day in one hotel, to unhygienic and poor standards in shared facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms. Families reported having to keep children entertained in one room as communal facilities were closed.
Another striking feature of this study was the difficulties that all the families experienced in trying to obtain accommodation for their family in the private rented sector through HAP. There were feelings of frustration at the lack of affordable choice in areas where their connections were, and their children were in school. Some of the participants talked about wanting to be honest from the start with the landlord and would mention they were on HAP and had children. However, rarely, if ever would they hear back for a viewing.
10 out of the 14 participants in this study had moved into a HAP property at the time of the survey. However, they had only managed to obtain this accommodation with the help of a Key Worker. A lot of these families were very independent and did not have support needs per se but were only successful in obtaining a HAP property with the backing of a homeless service.
What can we learn from the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures introduced?
- The number of families who become homeless has been proven to drop as a supply of suitable and when there is a supply of affordable homes, and tenancies in the private rented sector are maintained. This has to be prioritised by Government.
- Emergency Accommodation in Ireland, such as hotels, B&Bs, and family hubs are not suitable. The experiences of the people in this research, and many more like them, reported being isolated from their family and friends, cramped altogether in one area or room, and at higher risk of infection due to shared communal facilities. This is not to mention the stress, and humiliation of living in emergency accommodation with strict rules, limited privacy, and a feeling of being monitored and judged.
- Collaboration, resources and strong motivation from relevant government departments, NGOs, public sector organisations as well as the public is needed to address this issue.
While this pandemic was likely a once in a lifetime occurrence, for those individuals and families living in emergency accommodation during this time, a stressful situation was made worse by a lack of suitable, affordable homes. During this pandemic most of us experienced a new sense of appreciation for a comfortable home. This is a right that should be afforded to all, regardless of circumstances.
There are actions we can take to make a difference, and a first step is signing up to our HAP Protection Campaign here. All HAP recipients should be treated fairly and subject to the same rules as other social housing tenants. They should have a secure home and have an adequate income after they pay their housing costs. By signing up to this campaign you are showing your support for more people to maintain their homes in the private rented sector and prevent homelessness.