Focus Ireland Presents to the Joint Committee on Children & Youth Affairs

Focus Ireland made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Children & Youth Affairs today and said it welcomed the opportunity to discuss the impact of the current crisis as the number of children who are homeless has shot up a record total of 3,794 (April 2019).

The charity said it was pleased to see the recent publication of the report by the Ombudsman for Children, ‘No Place Like Home’, which gave children who are homeless a vital chance to have their voices heard.  Focus Ireland presented to the Joint Committee with its response to the report while also detailing its own work with children in families who are homeless.  (Focus Ireland works to support families while they are homeless on behalf of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and helped 400 to secure a home last year in partnership with the State).

Focus Ireland said the Ombudsman’s report combined a careful review of the legal and policy development of Family Hubs with close attention paid to the voices of the children who have to live there. The result is a damning indictment of this Government’s primary response to family homelessness. Focus Ireland hope that one day we will look back at the publication of this report as a turning point in Government policy.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said:

“When you read of the difficult lives which the children living in Family Homeless Hubs are experiencing, it is important to remember there are also many families living in worse conditions – up to 600 of the 1,700 families that are officially homeless are accommodated in Hubs while the remainder are in hotel rooms and lodging houses, which are universally recognised as even less appropriate. Furthermore there are over 400 families living in hotel rooms that do not even have a case manager to help them deal with the challenges they face and assist them in moving into a new home.”

The report also paints a picture of the hard work and commitment of the organisations and staff running the Hubs but also conveys that Hubs have emerged with no underlying policy objective, no standards and no long-term plan. These findings echo Focus Ireland’s long term reasons for its opposition to the use of family hubs.  Focus Ireland has always said that the solution to homelessness is providing more homes not more emergency accommodation.  The charity has repeatedly maintained that a major shift in government policy is required to end this crisis and to prevent families entering homelessness in the first place. Focus Ireland supports families to leave homelessness every day, but without an effective national policy this problem will not be solved.

Mr. Allen said:

“Focus Ireland supports the recommendations in the Ombudsman for Children report and renews our call for a coherent cross-department strategy to tackle family homelessness. In the absence of a dedicated family homeless strategy, the interests of children will be neglected.”

The report of the Office for the Ombudsman for Children sets out a number of priorities for action, both from the perspective of the OCO (p.26-7), as well as from children themselves (p.53-60). In general, Focus Ireland supports these priorities and in response we make a number of specific observations below:

  • Limits on the time spent in emergency accommodation: Focus Ireland supports this recommendation, but stresses that the manner of its implementation is key. It should be framed as placing an obligation on local authorities to identify suitable accommodation for families within a given time period – no longer than six months. There should be no possibility that a homeless family is forced to leave emergency accommodation when they still have no home to go to.

It should be noted that the priority currently placed on support organisations to maximise the total number of families that exit homelessness works against the interests of more vulnerable and harder to place families. The inevitable consequences of a single-minded focus on the number of exits will be ever-increasing concentration of vulnerable families with complex needs living for long periods in emergency homeless accommodation.

In addition, local authorities which restricted/removed homeless priority from their housing allocation schemes should reflect on the fact that this closes an important route out of homelessness for the most vulnerable children and can increase stigmatisation of the families experiencing homelessness.

  • Trauma informed response’: Becoming homeless is a traumatic event and that trauma is frequently exacerbated by the experience of living in emergency accommodation. In this context, we strongly support the OCO recommendation that practical measures – such as an increase in therapeutic supports and child support workers – should be implemented to “support the resilience, dignity and self-worth of children and parents while they are living in emergency accommodation”.   Focus Ireland is also currently engaged in an initiative to identify how therapeutic supports for children can be best delivered in a cross-sectoral way. This involves both research on international best practices and networking with key stakeholders involved in supporting children. We will keep the Committee and the Department informed about this work.
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