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The problem of homelessness in Ireland has turned into a crisis over the last ten years leaving thousands of people without a home. In this essay I will discuss how you are considered homeless in Ireland, causes of homelessness, the increase in homeless families, Ireland’s social housing policy and the Housing First policy and how it’s being used in Ireland.
What is Homelessness?
When referring to homelessness there are two main categories, the visible homeless and the ‘hidden homeless’. According to section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 a person is considered to be homeless if there is no accommodation available that in the opinion of the local authority the person or any person who resides with them can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of. It also states that a person living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or any other institution because they have no other accommodation is considered homeless, these would fall under the category of visible homeless. The hidden homeless refers to people who are living in squats, sofa-surfing, taking refuge in a domestic violence shelter, it also includes people who sleep rough (Focus Ireland, 2020). These people are not included in the official homeless figures which led to them being referred to as ‘hidden homeless’. Multi-generational households also fall under the hidden homeless category.
It is very hard to determine a definite cause of homelessness as there are many combining factors. If you look at it from a wider view there are two main factors that lead to homelessness, these are structural and personal factors (Focus Ireland, 2020). Structural factors relate to inequality and are deemed to be out of the hands of the individual for example the lack of affordable housing, unemployment and poverty. Personal factors relate to issues that an individual is dealing with such as addiction, mental health issues or family breakdown. (Focus Ireland, 2020). Focus Ireland (2020) states that the dramatic increase in Ireland’s homeless figures are mainly due to structural economic factors. This is in reference to the fact that a large number of families have become homeless in the last ten years due to the lack of affordable housing as there is a heavy reliance on the private rented sector, this coupled with the fact there is an insufficient number of social houses led to a spike in homeless families.
Over the last ten years Ireland’s homeless figures have increased dramatically and consistently every year. The number of homeless people in Ireland has nearly tripled in the last nine years, in 2011 there was a total of 3,808 people living homeless (CSO, 2012) which rose to 10,271 as of January 2020 (Simon Community, 2020). A main factor behind the spike in these numbers is the relatively new phenomenon that the country is experiencing which is a vast number of homeless families. There were 296 homeless families in 2011 (CSO, 2012) and throughout the decade the figures consistently rose every year without adequate intervention which led to the crisis we are experiencing now. In 2015 there was an increase of over 50% from 2011 to 775 homeless families (McVerry et al, 2017) the number continued to rise in 2017 there was 1,442 homeless families (McVerry et al, 2017), the number now stands at 1,611 as of January 2020 (Simon Community, 2020).
Traditionally in Ireland figures for homeless families would be quite low as families without accommodation could usually rely on the state providing them with accommodation through social housing or they could use rent allowance as a support which would enable them to rent suitable accommodation for themselves and their families. However, due to the worldwide economic crash the social housing budget was cut which meant that less local authority houses were being built for example only 247 local authority houses were built in 2016 (Holland, 2018), this explains the increase in homeless families. People are being forced to wait on housing lists for extended periods of time, in 2016 fifty-nine percent of people on the waiting list for social housing had been on the list for longer than three years. (McVerry et al, 2017). Regarding the private rent sector some families cannot afford to pay their rent as the prices continue to rise even with the assistance of rent allowance, which is leading to them falling into arrears, losing their home and becoming homeless. This has resulted in families having to move into emergency accommodation such as hotels and B&B’s which is not practical especially for families with young children.
In Ireland The Department of the Environment and Local Government are ‘the central authority responsible for national housing policy’ (Curry, 2003), however it is the 90 local authorities who are tasked with providing accommodation for rental to people who are living in inadequate conditions and or providing affordable accommodation to people whose income does not allow them to provide appropriate accommodation for themselves (Curry, 2003). In order to be considered for a local authority house you must be deemed eligibly, to become eligible you must meet the income criteria (Citizens Information, 2017). In Dublin the yearly income to be regarded in need of social housing must not exceed 35,000 euro for a single adult or for a family of three adults and four children the maximum income is 42,000 euro (Citizens Information, 2017), this is the highest threshold in the country the lowest operates in Westmeath and the yearly salary for a single adult must not exceed 25,000 euro and for a family the limit is set at 30,000 euro (Citizens Information, 2017). You must also prove that you have no suitable alternative accommodation available to qualify for social housing (Citizens Information, 2017). If any person within the household has property deemed acceptable to reside in, then you will be deemed as having alternative accommodation, this includes any properties that are being rented out by a member of the household (Citizens Information, 2017).
In 2014 the government introduced a new scheme called The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) which was designed as an aid to help tenants pay rent, HAP payments are made regardless of change in the tenant’s income (The Housing Agency, 2020). The long-term target for the HAP scheme is to replace the Rent Supplement payment and unlike the Rent Supplement the benefit of the HAP scheme is that people who are employed can access the payment unlike the Rent Supplement (McVerry et al 2017).
Ultimately Irelands homelessness crisis comes down to the continued failure of the government’s social housing policy. Due to the worldwide recession the budget for social housing was drastically cut which can be seen when you compare how many local authority houses were built in 2010 (2,931) to 2008 where there was 7,558 houses built, this is a decline of sixty-one percent (McVerry et al, 2017). The numbers continued to fall and by 2015 the construction of social houses was less than one-tenth of what it was in 2008 (McVerry et al, 2017). This highlights a clear failure to regulate the cuts in social housing which is a major contributor to our homelessness crisis.
Under the Housing First policy the aim is to provide long-term homeless people or rough sleeper with their own secure residence first and then offer them a variety of specialist supports in order to assist them in their transition with the long term goal being to end long-term homelessness (Peter McVerry Trust, 2019). This was first introduced in Ireland in 2011 when a Housing First demonstration project begun which ran until 2014, it focused on 23 rough sleepers who had been homeless for an extended period (Peter McVerry Trust, 2019).
In 2013 whilst the pilot project was in operation Minister for Housing at the time Jan O’Sullivan stated in her Homelessness Policy Statement that there would be a serious commitment to using the Housing First model to tackle homelessness in Ireland (Peter McVerry Trust, 2019). Following this statement, the Peter McVerry Trust and Focus Ireland were given contracts by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive tasked with delivering Housing First care in Dublin. Due to the success of this project in 2018 a National Director of Housing First post was created, and Bob Jordan was appointed, this was quickly followed by the National Housing First Implementation Plan which was published by the Minister’s Eoghan Murphy and Simon Harris. They outlined targets for each local authority to meet by 2021 regarding Housing First (Peter McVerry Trust, 2019). These targets now put responsibility on every local authority to adopt the Housing First policy approach to tackle homelessness within their regions.
There is no denying the increase in the homeless statistics over the last ten years is extremely alarming, the problem has expanded outside the traditional demographic of homeless people and now there are thousands of families and children homeless. The rise of these two demographic groups has brought new problems with them. The government is now challenged with thousands of families living in emergency accommodation and children having to grow up in hotel rooms thus impacting their development. When examining how the government determines how people are homeless there are some clear holes. The exclusion of the ‘hidden homeless’ from the figures keeps the already astronomical figures lower and leave the people who fall into this category alienated as they are not recognized as ‘homeless’ by the state so they cannot avail of any of the supports available. It is clear to see that the social housing policy that the country has used for decades is broken and I welcome the move to a Housing First approach and it is promising to see the beginning of this change however there is still a big issue regarding the construction of local authority houses. Without a spike in the number of social houses being built no model will ever be truly successful.
Curry, J. (2003) Irish Social Services, Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.
Citizens Information (2017) Applying for local authority/social housing, [online] Available at: https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/housing/local_authority_and_social_housing/applying_for_local_authority_housing.html [Accessed 4 March 2020]
CSO (2012) Homeless persons in Ireland: A special Census report, [online] Dublin: Ardee Road. Available at: https://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/census/documents/homelesspersonsinireland/Homeless_persons_in_Ireland_A_special_Census_report.pdf [Accessed 4 March 2020]
Focus Ireland (2020) About Homelessness, [online] Available at: https://www.focusireland.ie/resource-hub/about-homelessness/ [Accessed 4 March 2020]
Holland, K. (2018) ‘Total of 780 local authority houses built last year’ Irish Times [on-line] 25 April. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/total-of-780-local-authority-houses-built-last-year-1.3473178 [Accessed 4 March 2020]
Mc Verry, P SJ., Carroll, E. and Burns, M. (2017) ‘Homelessness and Social Housing Policy’ Issue 80 Rebuilding Ireland: A Flawed Philosophy, [online] Available at: https://www.workingnotes.ie/item/homelessness-and-social-housing-policy
Peter McVerry Trust (2019) Housing First, [online] Available at: https://pmvtrust.ie/housing/housing-first/#hf
Simon Community (2020) Homeless Facts and Figures, [online] Available at: https://www.dubsimon.ie/what-we-do/homeless-statistics/
The Housing Agency (2020) Information for property owners and landlords, [online] Available at: http://www.housingagency.ie/housing-information/information-property-owners-and-landlords
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