Covid-19 and building a society where we can all have a home to stay put in

Author: Mike Allen

The Covid-19 pandemic puts people who are homeless at risk disproportionate risk – not only are they more likely to have underlying health issues, they are unable to follow the key recommendations –wash your hands regularly, stay at home and keep a ‘social distance’ from other people. In this blog post, Director of Advocacy Mike Allen outlines the challenges that people who are homeless face in following these recommendations.

When you work for a homeless organisation you think a lot about the meaning of “home”. And these days, working from home for a homeless organisation, each one of the new Covid-19 rules is a reminder that having a home is absolutely central to our well-being.

It started with rule one: “wash your hands’. In my home we have two bathrooms and a sink in the kitchen, beside each sink is a container of liquid soap, there are clean towels. There is always hot water. Conditions for people who are homeless vary, but none of them is designed to make regular hand washing easy; for many it is impossible. Families often share one hotel room, with a bathroom that must double up for a kitchen and laundry. In homeless hostels, bathrooms are shared by several people, and usually you are out on the street most of the day. If you are sleeping rough, the few day services which have showers closed in the first days of the crisis. Being unable to wash your hands is just one of the everyday consequences of not having a home.

Rule 2 says ‘stay socially distanced’ by at least 2 metres. My home has a garden, and I can also walk out along the sea when there is no one else around. I can stay at home, and cook and eat with my own family. My daughters have their own bedrooms. Over the last few years, although millions of euros have been spent opening homeless hostels with thousands of new beds, few of them have single rooms. The majority are shared and a significant number are still dormitories. You may be sharing a room with different people each night, a few feet away from them, breathing in the same air for 8 hours. In many ‘Hubs’ families share kitchens and bathroom facilities. You need to go out to get something to eat. Being in forced proximity to other people is one of the everyday consequences of not having a home, just as being able to close the door of your own room is one of the consequences of having a home.

And then, if we hadn’t grasped it yet, there came the clarity of rule 3. “Stay at home”, they said. At present, I share my home with my wife and two daughters and our dog. We feel the restrictions, but it is comfortable for us all to stay here. But in order to stay safe, and keep other people safe, ‘homeless people’ must do the one thing that you are labelled as unable to do. A country that knows it has 10,000 people who are homeless, tells all its people to ‘stay at home’.

In France, the police fine the homeless for not staying home and in the UK there are fears they may be arrested. Here, there is nothing like that. In fact, it is extraordinary how Irish communities have come together. Our crisis-ridden health system seems transformed as it faces this new crisis. And so too our crisis-ridden housing system – rooms have been rented (many from AirB&B landlords suddenly without tourist bookings) either to ‘cocoon’ the particularly vulnerable or to quarantine the unwell. Hostels that turned people out each day to fend for themselves now stay open all day and also provide food. We have glimpsed the extraordinary power that the modern state can deliver when it feels it must – the Government has banned evictions, frozen rents and taken private hospitals under its control. In Northern Ireland and in England, it took them only 3 weeks to achieve their 2025 target of ending rough sleeping.

You would have to be very cynical not to applaud the hard work and achievement of so many people in making these changes and helping people who are homeless. But you would have to be very forgiving not to wonder why – since it turns out that we have the resources and power to provide everyone with a place to keep their hands clean, to be able to shut their own front door and to a have somewhere they can call a home to stay in – then why didn’t do it before? And when Covid-19 emergency is all over, will we remember that we have the capacity to deal with that other emergency too?







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Further Reading

Focus Blog

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Today we published the latest edition in our ‘Focus on Homelessness’ series looking at public expenditure on services for households experiencing homelessness (available here).

Shining a spotlight on women’s homelessness this #IWD2023

On International Women’s Day 2023, Focus Ireland reflects on the current state of women’s homelessness in Ireland and highlights the importance of developing services and policy responses that respond better to the unique needs and experiences of women. This is even more urgent than ever as figures show a 49% rise in the number of women homeless in the last two years.

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An international perspective on Irish homelessness policy

‘From Rebuilding Ireland to Housing for All: international and Irish lessons for tackling homelessness’ was launched in September this year, receiving widespread positive coverage. Here we asked the lead researcher, Professor Nicholas Pleace of York University,  to write a guest blog, setting out the main conclusions from the project.

Causes of Family Homelessness in the Dublin Region during the Covid-19 Pandemic

While Covid-19 supended 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.

Why are the numbers of people homeless at record level and what can be done to stop further increases?

With homelessness reaching a new record level in July, this blog looks at why homelessness has risen by 30% in the last year and what immediate and long-term actions must be taken now if we are to stop homeless from rising further.

Solidarity with Young People, Challenging Youth Homelessness: Focus Ireland Youth Services and Advocacy

In recognition of UN International Youth Day, this blog will highlight the risks faced by certain young people in terms of homelessness and housing insecurity, and the supports and services Focus Ireland is providing to address them.

Understanding housing inequalities: The disproportionate risk of homelessness facing migrants living in Ireland

March 2022 saw a sharp rise in the proportion of people with European Union or European Economic Area (EU/EEA) citizenship newly presenting to homeless services, according to figures reported by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE). The increase sparked media speculation concerning the causes of this, the role played by migration, and the implications of this apparent trend for homeless services and the housing sector in general. However, the most recent DRHE Monthly Report to Dublin City Councillors on Homelessness shows that the proportion of new presentations from persons with EU/EEA citizenship markedly fell to a more typical level in April.

Welcome decrease in rough sleeping as adult-only homelessness at record level in Dublin

There was a welcomed slight decrease in the number of individuals found rough sleeping in Dublin in Spring 2022 according to figures published by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) last week . The Official Spring Count of people sleeping rough in the Dublin Region was carried out over the week March 28th – April 3rd and identified a total of 91 individuals confirmed as rough sleeping during the week.

Housing should be at the heart of new Domestic Violence Strategy

Housing and homelessness was one of the key issues of the recent election. In this blog post, Communications Officer Conor Culkin outlines some of the reasons why it mattered so much to the Irish electorate.

The double trauma of Domestic violence and family homelessness – and the route out

Focus Ireland has recently launched it's Domestic Violence and Family Homelessness Report. This blog will look at the key findings and recommendations from this qualitative research.

Single adult homelessness continues to rise despite pandemic decreases

During 2020 we saw the largest recorded annual fall in homelessness to date, with the number of people in emergency homeless accommodation falling by a massive 2,000 between January and December.

“The queer community is strong, supportive and inclusive, especially in the case of adversity”

In September Focus Ireland launched a significant research report entitled: A Qualitative Study of LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness in Ireland.

Homeless Figures and the Impact of COVID-19

The third volume of our ‘Focus on Homelessness’ (October 2020) report presents data covering the first six months of the 2020, providing the first insight into the impact of the Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ period on homelessness.

Review of 7 years of spending on homelessness shows it’s time to change

In the first Special Edition of our Focus on Homelessness series, we are looking at Expenditure on Services for Households Experiencing Homelessness. In this blog post, Director of Advocacy Mike Allen outlines why we need a deeper understanding of this, and how this Edition does this.

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In the space of just a few weeks, Covid-19 has fundamentally reconfigured the relationship between welfare and work in Ireland. In this blog post, Dr Mary Murphy, Senior Lecturer at Maynooth University, examines why we need an inclusive high road back to work strategy as we transition out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 and building a society where we can all have a home to stay put in

The Covid-19 pandemic puts people who are homeless at risk disproportionate risk – not only are they more likely to have underlying health issues, they are unable to follow the key recommendations –wash your hands regularly, stay at home and keep a ‘social distance’ from other people.

Let’s be #EachforEqual for women who are homeless

Last year on International Women’s Day, Focus Ireland wrote about the increased rates of female homelessness in Ireland. In the space of a year, the situation for homeless women in Ireland has only gotten worse.

Understanding the December 2019 homeless figures – Part 1

Having access to accurate numbers is key to informing policy and services responses designed to tackle homelessness. It is equally vital to have the information behind the numbers to be able to clearly understand trends as they develop.