New Focus Ireland research shows that the ‘most vulnerable of the vulnerable’ young homeless families are trapped in homelessness due to lack of supports

Focus Ireland launched a new study today, Young Families in the Homeless Crisis: Challenges and Solutions, which shines a light on the problems experienced by young homeless families, aged 18-24, whose first experience of independent living results in homelessness.

The study reports that around 1 in 10 of all homeless families fall into this category, but their needs are not well understood and they frequently face stigmatisation and judgemental responses.

The independent research report, led by UCC Researcher Dr Sharon Lambert and commissioned by Focus Ireland, is the first report to look at the particular challenges facing young parents who are homeless and trying to find a new home while coping with all the challenges of becoming parents. Focus Ireland is recognised as the lead organisation working with homeless families in Ireland and has extensive experience in working with young people also. The report is part of an extensive series of research reports commissioned by Focus Ireland which aim to improve the effectiveness of services to tackle homelessness.

The report highlights that these families report multiple barriers in exiting homelessness – they are turned down by private landlords because they have no references or track record with previous tenancies and they are at the back of the social housing list because of their age. Many families were also deeply concerned about the insecurity of tenure in the private rented sector, so that if they do eventually find a tenancy, there they may end up homeless again in the near future.

In the two and a half years since Rebuilding Ireland recognised the unique challenge faced by homeless families, the Government has failed to set out any coherent approach to meet the particular needs of homeless parents and their children – including young parents. Between 20 and 25% of the families becoming homeless the parents are under 25 years of age, and around 9% of these families living in emergency homeless accommodation reported that this is their first experience of independent family life.

The study highlights the problems of overcrowding and conflict with their own parents which often leads these young parents to become homeless. In the context of these strained family dynamics, an event could occur which was a ‘tipping point’, which made the situation entirely untenable after which they present to their local authority as homeless. The report recommends that the provision of a professional mediation service and other supports might allow some of these parents to remain longer in their home of origin, and so avoid homelessness. For others who are unable to remain in their family home, access to social housing and/or greater security of tenure through Housing Assistance Payments in the private rented sector would enable quicker exit routes out of homelessness for these families.

A total of 18 families in Dublin and Cork gave detailed interviews and seven stakeholders in the statutory and NGO sectors were also interviewed.

Director of Advocacy and Research, Mike Allen said:

‘These young parents, for whom homelessness is the very first experience of living independently of their own parents, have a good claim to be recognised as among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They have no experience of living as independent adults let along of being parents. These families are a small minority of all the homeless families – less than 1 in 10 – but they are among the most stigmatised and least understood of the families facing homelessness.

Allen added:

“The Government has made no attempt to set out what those specific challenges are or how they are to be addressed. While the number of homeless families has grown month on month, families that were not ‘vulnerable’ when first evicted from their homes have become vulnerable, while the needs of those who enter homelessness with significant levels of support need are frequently neglected.”

One of the respondents, Niamh, 24, said:

“Like, when you’re going into viewings, there’s six other people there and, like, you know they’re all walking in with their briefcases and everything and there’s me with him [child]. Is there even a point of me being here?”

Niamh became homeless due to family conflict:

“She’d obviously be stressed out and then I’d be stressed out as well and then I just had so much going on, like, so I just couldn’t live there and then she just said get out, like, you know what I mean, like, we had a big huge fight then and I had to leave.”

One of the central themes emerging from the interviews with the young parents is that all their decisions and choices were driven by what they understood to be the long-term needs and well-being of their children. Without exception, every decision they made in relation to their housing – whether to remain in emergency accommodation or to return to a family member or seek private rented accommodation – was informed by the long-term interests of their children. The report argues that attempts to support these young families must understand and respect their concern for their children and provide them with better choices and better information.

The report recommendations include:

  • A comprehensive strategy to respond to the unique needs of families that are homeless.
  • A new ‘developmentally informed’ approach to young parents who are homeless in a way which recognises their particular needs related to their age and experience.
  • Establishment of a new family mediation and support service to prevent such families becoming homeless.
  • Provision of sufficient key workers for all families, and retention of their link with their family of origin (over 500 homeless families currently do not have a support worker).
  • Improved access to social housing, and greater security of tenure in HAP so it is more attractive for young families.
  • Addressing discrimination in the private rented sector towards young parents and acceleration of the building and acquisition of social housing.

To view Young Families in the Homeless Crisis: Challenges and Solutions click here.

For Media Queries contact Roughan MacNamara (0868515117) or Alan Neary (0864680442).

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