Is more emergency accommodation the solution to the family homelessness crisis?

Published: 22.03.2019

The increase in family homelessness in Ireland has led to new forms of emergency responses in an effort to improve conditions for families. In this blog post, Focus Ireland Research Officer Daniel Hoey examines the risk that temporary solutions will become normalised in the future.

Regrettably the housing and homelessness crisis is likely to continue for several years to come. As The Irish Times reported recently, Dublin City Council are preparing for an increase in homelessness and the need for more emergency accommodation. Given the demographics of homelessness in Ireland and current policy this will mean an expansion of family hub type emergency accommodation.

The Rebuilding Ireland programme outlined the provisions of family hubs, which aimed to provide a better short-term accommodation solution for homeless families and to move away from an overreliance on commercial scatter site hotels and B&Bs which were deemed inappropriate forms of accommodation for families. Family hubs were to provide child-friendly accommodation and a range of family supports complete with basic facilities for washing clothes and the cooking and preparing of meals in a congregate setting.

In September of last year, Dublin City Council reported that they were eighteen family hubs operating in the Dublin region. At that time, there were approximately 400 families residing in this this type of accommodation. Twelve of these family hubs are known as category 1, meaning they are managed by a service provider such as the Salvation Army or the Peter McVerry Trust. Six family hubs are category 2 and are managed by a private provider with Focus Ireland providing professional support for the families.

While there is little doubt that family hubs and the facilities contained within them are an improvement on hotel and B&B accommodation, there remains serious concerns. Research undertaken in 2017 on family hubs found that the rules and conditions attached to family hubs and this congregate form of accommodation – such as strict curfews, overnight leave rules, and parental rules – diminished the autonomy of parents, leading to negative consequences for adult and child wellbeing.

Another concern identified in the report related to the general absence of an overarching design model, pilots or operational principles for the management of family hubs. There are no specific regulations across the family hubs. For example, complaints and evictions are dealt with differently by different operators, as highlighted by a recent and troubling removal of a family from a family hub in Dublin’s city centre.

Long-Term Implications

As investment in the provision of family hubs as the first response to family homelessness increases, the fear is that this type of emergency accommodation will become a permanent feature of homelessness services and therefore become normalised in Irish society. Once any service becomes embedded, and has received significant investment (it cost €25 million to develop 15 hubs), there will inevitably be resistance to change from private entities that benefit financially from the current system.

the fear is that this type of emergency accommodation will become a permanent feature of homelessness services and therefore become normalised in Irish society.

We don’t have to look too far for an example of what was once envisaged as a temporary policy for housing vulnerable people becoming a permanent feature. Direct Provision centres were initially conceived as a short-term housing solution for asylum seekers while their applications for residency were considered. That was nearly twenty years ago, and today close to 450 people have been living in Direct Provision centres for over five years. This controversial and much criticized system of accommodation has been described as amounting to institutionalized poverty.

Family hubs are a relatively new phenomenon and we don’t currently have the data to tell us how long families are spending in this type of accommodation. However given the dearth of social and affordable housing options coupled with a dysfunctional and insecure rental market – which many families came from – families may find themselves in family hub type accommodation for longer than initially expected or desired. The danger with any prolonged period exposed to these institutionalized settings is that it will damage families’ ability to function independently, which does not bode well when they eventually make the move to a home of their own.

Ireland has a dark and disturbed relationship with institutions and specifically the care and housing of vulnerable, marginalised groups. We must avoid creating the architecture for a new form of institutionalisation for families struggling in the deep end of our broken housing system. Rapid rehousing in independent homes should be the first response to families experiencing homelessness.  And for that to become a reality we need the urgent building of homes not hubs.

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Tags: Family Homelessness, Housing, Solutions, Sustained Exits

Author: Daniel Hoey

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