Focus Ireland present findings of ground-breaking studies on family homelessness to Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Committee consider how family homeless can be prevented and how the impact of homelessness on families that had been supported into new homes by Focus Ireland.
The independent researchers who carried out ground-breaking studies on family homelessness for Focus Ireland today (14th February) presented their findings to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The two-part research project looked at how family homelessness can be prevented (Keeping a Home) and how the impact of homelessness on families that had been supported into new homes by Focus Ireland (Finding a Home).
The researchers behind ‘Finding a Home’ (Dr. Kathy Walsh and Brian Harvey) outlined to the Committee how most families that had experienced homelessness were able to recover quickly from the experience when they found a new home, but that in some cases parents in families fear that the experience may have long-term impacts on their children. The report involved detailed interviews with 25 families that had been homeless for periods between three months and two years and who had been supported out of homelessness with the support of Focus Ireland Family team. It showed how parents who were homeless for longer periods of time reported greater long-term impacts on their children. The report also shows the terrible strain that becoming homeless can cause on the family unit and relationships.
Focus Ireland told the Committee how one parent who took part in the report said: “Being homeless was so overwhelming. I never felt safe. I never felt the kids were safe.”
Séan O’Shiochrú, one of the researchers from the second report, ‘Keeping a Home’, informed the Committee that his research showed with investment in the right supports family homelessness can be prevented. Changes in legislation to increase security in the private rented sector would make prevention services more effective.
Focus Ireland Advocacy Director Mike Allen added: “What we do know is prevention works – families that were at high risk of becoming homeless were able to obtain or retain secure housing through a range of interventions. Case management by trained staff plays an essential role in preventing homelessness. This is because of the complex range of issues that face families in housing crisis, even where the actual trigger for homeless risk is primarily economic. The human interaction in this relationship should not be underestimated.
Mr Allen told the Committee that “Over 250 of the families which are homeless in Dublin do not have access to a case worker and many have to wait months before they are allocated this crucial level of support. We recognise and welcome the commitment to improving the physical conditions of families that are homeless, but there has been an under-emphasis on the human supports needed. Every family that is homeless should have access to a case manager and there should be no waiting list for specialist support for children who have been assessed as needing support.
Focus Ireland called for greater investment in research to find out what interventions are effective in preventing and ending homelessness. “Everyone agrees that we need ‘evidence based policy’ but there is a reluctance to invest in obtaining the evidence. A key element of tackling homelessness must be to look critically at the services we all provide, to find out what works and what needs to be improved. Focus Ireland’s investment in this research is part of our commitment to understand what works best in preventing family homelessness and in ending it as quickly as possible. We believe the research has implications beyond our own services and we would like to thank the Committee for inviting us to share the findings of these two reports which I hope will be useful in helping to inform the State’s approach to the crisis.”
The reports made a series of recommendations which would have a major impact on families experiencing homeliness, if introduced.
- 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.
- New legislation to prevent landlords who are selling up from evicting households with tenancy agreements
- An independent appeals system to prevent families being removed from the housing list without their knowledge or consent.
- Mechanisms to ensure that the housing offered to families who are homeless meets legal minimum standards.
- Through Focus Ireland services, 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.
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