Focus Ireland New Report Issued As Charity Announces It Has Helped Over 300 Families to Escape Homelessness so far in 2017

A new report (Commissioned by Focus Ireland) has found that parents in families who were previously homeless fear that the experience may have long-term impacts on their children. The report also clearly outlines how parents who were homeless for longer periods of time reported greater long-term impacts on their children.

Focus Ireland also announced that so far this year its Family Homeless Action Team (FHAT) (Funded by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive) has supported over 300 families to move out of homelessness and get on with their normal lives again.

The charity said this report will help it to refine its services to help greatly reduce and eliminate any longer term impact on children who have been homeless.

The findings indicate that younger children appeared to recover more quickly than older children. Some of the impacts of homelessness for older children only started to emerge after they moved to their new home. The report also shows the terrible strain that becoming homeless can cause on the family unit and relationships.

One parent told how she split up with her partner when they became homeless and another man told of how he lost his job.

Another parent said: “Being homeless was so overwhelming. I never felt safe. I never felt the kids were safe.”

These findings come in a new report commissioned by Focus Ireland which – for the first time – explores the experiences of families who were previously homeless but have now moved on. The report was carried out by independent researchers Dr Kathy Walsh and Brian Harvey on behalf of Focus Ireland, and involved detailed interviews with 25 families that had been homeless for periods between three months and two years.

Focus Ireland said the invaluable feedback from the families will help the charity to refine its services. The recommendations made in the report will see the charity take additional steps to help lessen the long-term impact being homeless has on the family unit – and children. The families in the report highlighted the support they received which helped them to move on from being homeless and secure a home.

These supports included; Focus Ireland, the Society of the Vincent de Paul, their local authority and the Department of Social Protection. The majority of the families reported that their Focus Ireland key support worker played a central role in helping their family to escape homelessness.

Focus Ireland CEO Ashley Balbirnie said: “So far this year the Focus Ireland Family Homeless Action Team (FHAT) (Funded by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive) has supported over 300 families to move out of homelessness and get on with their normal lives again. This study is the first time we have gone back to 25 of the families who have helped to secure a home and asked them what they thought of our services. The researchers asked parents what could have been done better and most importantly what each parent thought had been the impact of homelessness on their children.“

He added: “However, this report shows that a period of homelessness can often have longer term impact on families and family life in general. This report begins to sketch out in very practical terms the kind of supports that would help families reduce the negative impact of homelessness. It is clear of course that preventing homelessness is the best response but the reality is that while we manage to help one family a day to secure a home another two or three become homeless the same day. While this crisis continues we need to listen carefully to parents and refine our services to meet their needs and those of their children.”

Some parents say that their children recover quickly from the experience of homelessness. However, others fear that there may be long-term impacts across a number of issues such as family discipline, school attendance and difficulty studying. The parents who took part in the study also reported that teenage children seemed to suffer longer term impacts from a period of family homelessness compared to younger children.

Parents said their greatest fear was that their children have been exposed to activities such as drunkenness, drug taking, rows and violence involving other residents of the homeless emergency accommodation. Parents said the children would never have been exposed to these activities if they had not been in homeless emergency accommodation.

Parents also spoke openly about the impact homelessness had on their own mental health, their relationships with their partners and the impact of this on their children. All the parents were very clear that being homeless had had a negative impact on the relationships between parents and with children. They identified problems in some emergency accommodation and a lack of support in dealing with these issues. While many had sought psychological support during their period of homelessness, none of them had received it.

The families also acknowledged the support they received from volunteers from the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul, which provided a range of supports including money, moral support and help with educational needs. In addition to a greater urgency in providing new social housing, the researchers recommendations included:

– more effective measures to prevent homelessness in the first place.

– ending of the practice of ‘self-accommodation’, in which families who are homeless are required to source their own emergency accommodation, which is then paid for by the local authority.

– An independent appeals system to prevent families being removed from the housing list without their knowledge or consent.

– Changes in the practices of some local authorities, such as ‘daily signing in’ and excessive pressure to accept offers of accommodation which they considered unreasonable.

– Mechanisms to ensure that the housing offered to families who are homeless meets legal minimum standards.

The researchers also recommended that the finding of the report could help Focus Ireland to make some changes to its services including:

– Explaining better the support offered by the FHAT to families, and being clearer about waiting times to be allocated a support worker.

– Linking families with services to provide relationship counselling and mental health supports.

– Supporting the sharing of good practice among schools with children who are homeless.

– Exploring whether a storage system so that families could store possessions while they are homeless.

Notes to Editor:

The Focus Ireland Family Homeless Action team is the primary service supporting homeless families in Dublin. It is funded by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on behalf of the four local authorities in Dublin, and by donations to Focus Ireland. The team includes Child Support workers which are funded by the HSE and Tusla. The team has provided Case Management Support to in the region of 1000 families; and the Child Support workers support children in many families , who have been assessed as needing additional support.

Media Contact:  Roughan Mac Namara 0868515117

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