The root cause of the homeless crisis in Ireland is the broken housing system. Ireland does not have a public housing system to meet the needs of the society. Provision of affordable public housing must form a key part of any country’s housing system. It acts as a safety net for families and individuals pushed out of the private rental market due to the high cost of renting or lack of housing. In the last decade the lack of social housing provision combined with private house building grinding to a half has meant more people than ever are renting their homes. Almost 1 in 5 households now live in a privately rented home compared to 1 in 10 ten years ago. This has led to enormous pressure on the private rental market which has resulted in constantly rising rent levels and a lack of properties to rent.
There were 10,264 people homeless in the week of February 18th-24th 2019 across Ireland. This figure includes adults and children. The number of homeless families has increased by 116% since February 2016. More than one in three people in emergency accommodation is a child. However, this number does not include ‘hidden homelessness’ which refers to people who are living in squats or ‘sofa surfing’ with friends. Furthermore, women and children staying in domestic violence refuges are not included in these homeless emergency accommodation counts. The national figure also does not include people who are sleeping rough.
The Department of Housing publishes the ‘official’ homeless figure each month, along with details about gender and county.
In the past, most people using emergency accommodation were single adults. But in the last three years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of families becoming homeless, and in February 2019, there were 1,707 families accessing emergency accommodation. This includes 3,784 children. Focus Ireland publishes regular insights into family homelessness reports which aim to further our understanding in developing effective responses to the problem.
The causes of homelessness are always complex. Broadly speaking, homelessness can be caused by ‘structural factors’ (like lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, inadequate mental health services, etc) or ‘personal factors’ (like addictions, mental health issues, family breakdown etc). The current rise in family homelessness is driven primarily by structural economic factors.
According to Focus Ireland research and analysis, the overwhelming number of families becoming homeless had their last stable home in the private rented sector, and the crisis in this sector is the immediate cause of their homelessness – landlords selling up or being repossessed, shortage of properties to rent, scarcity of properties accepting rent supplement, and high rents.
Most of the families becoming homeless have never experienced homelessness before and never thought this could happen to them. Thousands more families are struggling on very low incomes or social welfare and many are falling into serious housing difficulties as rents continue to rise.
Some families are becoming homeless as Rent Supplement payments fail to cover the rent. They fall into arrears and end up losing their home. From our front-line work, Focus Ireland know that the single largest cause of homelessness is now property being taken out of the rental market, either by the landlord selling up, or using the property for their own family.
Other families can’t find anywhere to rent as payments are too low and many landlords do not accept rent supplement. Meanwhile, the Government has so far failed to provide better access to affordable housing for people in need.
In February 2019, there were 3,784 children in emergency homeless accommodation with their families. In the 1990s, Ireland had a serious problem of children who were homeless on their own. Focus Ireland played a key role in ending this situation and today it is very unusual for children to be homeless on their own due to effective and coordinated responses.
Vulnerable young people are among the first victims of the housing crisis, with private landlords, social housing bodies and local authorities reluctant to rent to them.
At the end of February 2019:
Young people who grew up in care often lack a network of family support and may not have the skills to independent living. Young people who are unemployed only receive a reduced rate of social welfare payment. For young people who have been in State care, or can’t go home to their family, it can be difficult to find accommodation, resulting in destitution for many. The parents in many of the homeless families are young people themselves and are desperately trying to establish a home of their own.
What you see above is the ‘official’ homeless figures. It is widely recognised that large numbers of young people live without a permanent home but do not enter homeless services. These young people survive by sleeping on a friend’s sofa, squatting or staying in other insecure or unsafe places.
We know so little about the real numbers of young people facing homelessness in this way and the challenges they face that Focus Ireland has referred to them as ‘the forgotten homeless’.
We argue that there should be better provision of support services for vulnerable young people. No person should have to move straight from childhood into adult homeless services. Without help, an experience of homelessness at this age can mean that someone can be homeless in the long-term.
The most recent official assessment of social housing need was published in September 2018 and showed 71,858 households qualified for social housing. Over a quarter of these households have been on the list for over seven years.
While the Government has introduced a range of policies to tackle homelessness, the growing number of people becoming homelessness shows they are inadequate.
Some of the problems are long running – such as the decision to cut social housing spending by 72% between 2008 and 2012 (€1.38bn to €390m), but short term measures such as Rent Supplement levels, rising rents and reduced welfare rates for under-25s have not been tackled either.
Focus Ireland has published a large number of evidence-based proposals for positive change and all are free to download here.
During 2018 alone, Focus Ireland services across the country provided support to over 15,000 people. It is important to recognise that, given our strong commitment to preventing homelessness, not all of these were homeless – many were seeking support to avoid becoming homeless.
We believe that having a place to call home is the most fundamental of human rights.
‘Home’ is a powerful word. It means many things to many people. At its most basic, we believe that the word ‘home’ means a safe and secure place where you can truly be yourself.
We all take having a home for granted. But imagine if you woke up tomorrow to the news that you’d lost your home. What would you do? Where would you go? What would it mean for your job? What would it mean for your children’s schooling?
Imagine not having a say in when you’d like to go to sleep. Imagine not having cooking facilities. When you don’t have a home, every mundane, routine aspect of your day becomes another hurdle to overcome. And now imagine you have a young family to look after, and you’re in nightmare territory.
The right to housing is recognized by the United Nations (Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the UN has been active in highlighting homelessness as a violation of human rights. The UN has released a new report on homelessness addressing the right to adequate housing. Focus Ireland has actively participated in this process, both in our own right and as part of FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Associations Working with the Homeless).