Successful Focus Ireland campaign to prevent family homelessness could save the homes of hundreds if extended to other high risk areas

An innovative Focus Ireland campaign to help families who were at risk f homelessness showed that, with the right support, 90% of them were still in tenancies three months later. Focus Ireland believes if extended to other high risk areas, this approach could prevent hundreds of families entering homelessness.

The campaign was a five week pilot programme aimed at the families renting in Dublin 15, where previous research buy Focus Ireland had found that a large proportion of Dublin’s over 1,000 families previously been renting.

The key to the pilot project was the partnership with the Department of Social Protection’s Blanchardstown Intreo Office. This office addressed a letter written by the charity to all families in receipt of rent supplement in Dublin 15, urged them to seek support if they were worried about losing their homes.

THE letter asked people at risk to contact Focus Ireland, who them put them in touch with the range of supports that now exist for families at risk of homelessness.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said: “The results of the pilot project were impressive. First of all the direct mail from the Department of Social Welfare was overwhelmingly more effective that our extensive advertising and media campaign, with over 95% of respondents saying it was the reason they contacted us, with only 5% citing the advertising campaign.”

“Off the 87 families who were at risk of homelessness at the time of first making contact with Focus Ireland a total of 859% (or 77 families) were still in tenancies when we contacted them for the follow up survey three months later. However, 11% (10 families) had become homeless and found themselves in emergency accommodation, and we linked these families in with the Focus Ireland Family Support Services.”

He added: “To prevent homelessness you need to get your message to families who are stressed out and trying not to think about the crisis they are in. Most campaigns have relied on adverts , which only have limited impact. The Department of Housing and the local authorities have now put in place a range of supports to help people in difficulty, but people often don’t hear about them until it is too late. The Department of Social Protection know where many of the at risk families live, but until now haven’t used this knowledge as part of a communication campaign to ask them to seek help. This approach works- 75% of the families that contacted the service had not contacted any State-supported prevention service prior to responding to the letter.”

The campaign saw trained Focus Ireland homeless prevention workers provide a fast-track targeted service by telephone, email and face-to-face clinic meetings to ensure that every possible step was taken to keep families in their homes. Staff supported families to challenge notices of termination, and assisted others to get an increase in their rent supplement from the Department of Social Protection. Many did not know that such an increase was possible. Families whose tenancy could not be saved were supported to source alternative accommodation or link in with other Focus Ireland services.

The report found that of those who were effectively prevented from becoming homeless, 82% remained in the same tenancy, while 18% had found new tenancies: 11 found alternative rented accommodation, 6 of these with assistance from the Homeless HAP scheme; 3 had moved into Local Authority Housing.

Dublin 15 is among one  of the fastest growing urban areas in Ireland with a large number of households which are privately renting and in receipt of rent supplement. The report highlighted factors which led to increased numbers becoming homeless included low incomes, rising rents and a reluctance to increase the Rent Supplement or Homeless Assistance Payment levels.

This report highlighted a number of key recommendations based on its findings. These include:

  • The Department of Social Protection should support similar campaigns in other areas with a high population of households in the private rented sector.
  • 17% of the households had averted homelessness by finding alternative accommodation, with the support of Focus Ireland, the local authority, Dublin Place Finders and others. This ‘rapid rehousing’ response to families whose current tenancy cannot be saved is effective, its development by DRHE is welcome and it should be expanded and better publicized.
  • Future campaigns should produce letters and other materials in different languages, as English was a second language for a significant number of the parents involved. Additional translation support for advice staff should be considered.

The campaign was funded under the Bord Gais Energy charity partnership with Focus Ireland which helps support the charity’s work with families and children who are homeless or at risk.

Focus Ireland’s family team works hard- supported by Dublin Regional Homeless Executive- to support the families and children who are homeless. The Focus Ireland Advice and Information services based in Dublin and elsewhere are funded by a range of statutory and non-statutory funders. The service plays a vital role in preventing families and individuals becoming homeless.

The charity has also repeated its call for a dedicated sub-strategy to address family homelessness that includes a target of supporting all families out of homelessness within six months and also providing a range of support to avert the potentially devastating effects on the children involved.

You can read the full report here.


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