Charity calls for Govt to develop a specific family homelessness strategy as the number of families homeless has shot up by nearly 300% since 2015*

Families living in the private rented sector are continuing to bear the brunt of the deepening housing and homeless crisis according to new research launched by Focus Ireland today (13th June) in the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin.

The researchers interviewed 237 families that are homeless in Dublin, with 68% (161) of them reporting that their last stable home was in the private rented sector.

Over half of these families (86 out of 161 or 53%) became homeless because their landlord had decided to stop renting out the property – either selling the property, moving their family or themselves into the property or the property being repossessed by the bank.

The report shows that the majority of families that became homeless had stable housing histories and 9-out-of-ten respondents had lived in their last stable home for over a year, with “33% having lived in their last stable home for over 6 years”.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said: “In order to end any crisis it is vital to fully understand the situation.  We need to have solid data which clearly outlines where families were living before they lost their home, why they became homeless and what could have done to prevent them from losing their home in the first place.  This clear information informs our work with the State to refine our family services and to also develop policy recommendations that – if acted upon by Government – would help to greatly reduce the number of families becoming homeless.”

He added: “The research is reinforcing the evidence from our previous work, which shows that homelessness is happening to a large number of families for purely economic reasons – they have held stable tenancies and the events that are leading to their homelessness are entirely beyond their control – they relate to the circumstances and choices made by their landlords. While the recently enacted Residential Tenancies Act (2019) includes many welcome measures, including increased sanctions for the tiny minority of landlords who break the rules, it will do nothing to address the most significant factors which are driving homeless upwards.”

The report is titled “Family Homelessness in Dublin; Causes, Housing Histories, and Finding a Home”. It is the latest in a series of studies of family homelessness published through the Focus Ireland “Insights into Family Homelessness Series”which aims to inform the charity’s services & policy responses to the crisis.  The report also found that families are making extensive efforts to find a new home with over three-quarters of attempting to access properties through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).  Almost two-thirds (61%) had applied for over 20 HAP properties each but nearly half (48%) felt landlords were reluctant to rent their properties to HAP tenants.

 Mike Allen said: “There’s now a record number of 10,378 people homeless in Ireland and nearly 4,000 are children. The number of families who are homeless has shot up by a staggering 298% in the last four years from 429 in Feb 2015 to 1,707 in Feb 2019.  This is wrong and we must all work together to end this crisis.  Focus Ireland publishes this research as a contribution to the national understanding of the crisis, so that we can arrive at more effective solutions.  It also presents accurate information which we hope will counteract any misconceptions about why families are homeless and the very considerable efforts they are making to find themselves new homes.”

The research also confirmed that lone mothers, migrants (parents originally from a country outside of Ireland), and members of the Travelling community face a disproportionate risk to family homelessness. While a majority of families are actively attempting to exit homelessness, the difficulties in sourcing affordable and stable private rented accommodation can be profound.

Mr Allen added: “One of the most worrying findings of the research is that – despite extensive investment in advertising the support services available – one third of the families did not seek any advice or support before becoming homeless. We clearly need to rethink the way we communicate the availability of the help that is available and target the families that are most at risk.

(The areas most frequently mentioned as to where survey respondents last stable homes were located included in Dublin 7, Dublin 15, County Dublin, Dublin 17, & Dublin 8.)

 Researchers conducted telephone interviews with a total of 237 families who had become homeless in Dublin and were supported by the Focus Ireland family team in 2018 (Funded by Dublin Region Homeless Executive.)  A series of phone interviews were conducted in Jan & Feb of this year.

The main findings in the report include the following:

  • 60% of families had very stable housing histories with lengthy tenancies
  • 58% became homeless due to issues directly related to  their private rented sector home (EG: Rent affordability, landlord selling up or using the property for a family member, renovation)
  • 36% became homeless due to the landlord leaving the market.
  • 20% of parents were working while 69% were unemployed. (Migrant families have lived in Ireland for long periods before becoming homeless
  • 56% of families were originally from outside Ireland but a majority had lived here for many years before becoming homeless with 80% of these households having their last stable home in the rental sector
  • 92% had lived in their last stable home for 12 months or more; 58% between in last stable home for between 1 – 6 years & 33% for over 6 years
  • 58% were one-parent families while 41% were two-parent families.

The report was conducted by Alice Long, Sarah Sheridan, Letizia Gambi and Daniel Hoey for Focus Ireland and is available as an executive summary and full report.

Focus Ireland would like to sincerely thank Bord Gáis Energy for funding this research and report publication. Focus Ireland’s partnership with Bord Gáis Energy focuses on two specific areas within the charity’s range of services; providing support to families who are homeless and preventing family homelessness. The partnership also allows Focus Ireland to pursue research based and innovative projects. Focus Ireland can then use the findings and outcomes to help us seek funding for similar projects from government agencies.

 Editors Notes:

The report found that 56% of families who responded were originally from outside Ireland and the majority of these families had lived here for some time with a stable housing history. A total 80% having their last stable home in the private rented sector. Focus Ireland said that the reason there are more migrant families becoming homeless is that there is a growing number living in the private rental sector. CSO figures show that 41.7% of households renting in the four Dublin local authority areas are headed by a person born outside of Ireland.

 It is vital that there is a clear understanding of the facts around homelessness to counteract the narrative put forward by some that families are moving to Ireland to access homeless services.  The reality is that many families are losing their homes and becoming homeless due to the pressures of a dysfunctional housing system.  A total of 69% of the families originally from a country outside of Ireland said they become homeless due reasons including: Not being able to afford rising rents, property being removed from the market due to being sold, landlord leaving the rental sector of using the property for their own relatives.

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