Report warns of increase in rural homelessness

Danger homelessness outside urban areas is forgotten by policy makers

Of the 3,808 people found to be in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough in the 2011 census, 37 per cent of them were outside Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Of the 3,808 people found to be in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough in the 2011 census, 37 per cent of them were outside Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:01

Homelessness in rural Ireland is increasing and is more hidden, more stigmatised and more difficult to endure than being homeless in towns or cities, a report published today finds.

The Simon Community report, Left Out in the Cold: a Review of Rural Homelessness in Ireland, calls for increased resources for homeless services outside the main urban centres “as a matter of urgency”. It says inadequacy of services is forcing some to leave their communities and migrate to larger towns, where they may encounter more acute problems.

The report says while 3,808 people were found to be in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough in the 2011 census, 37 per cent of them were outside Dublin. As in other counties, there is a “lack of robust data on homelessness” in rural areas.

However, the CSO figures are “a minimum” and “things have deteriorated significantly since 2011”. Rural homelessness has been relatively unexplored in Ireland, it says. By rural, the report means areas outside the main cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Homelessness is more acute and more visible in urban areas, particularly Dublin, so rural homelessness can be forgotten by policymakers.

“It is important to note that poverty is experienced differently in rural areas,” says the report, as is homelessness. “One of the most common differences is that rural homelessness tends to be more hidden than in urban areas with fewer people appearing to sleep rough. Instead they stay with family and friends, couch surf or live in overcrowded and unfit accommodation.”

A major problem for them is access to services, of which there are fewer in rural areas.

Further, they may be long distances away and unreliable public transport makes it difficult to access services. Anecdotal information, the charity adds, suggests people in rural areas have stopped accessing services due to lack of transport.

Supplement

While rent supplement was increased in urban areas in June 2013, it was cut in rural areas. Added to this, units of accommodation tend to be bigger in rural areas – typically three to four bedrooms – making it almost impossible for single people on low incomes to access private rented accommodation.

The report also refers to the experience of homelessness in small tight-knit communities. While it can mean people have close family supports, it can also mean people feel more shame about their situation.

These issues can force people in housing distress to migrate to the cities, when in fact, says Niamh Randall, head of policy with Simon, it makes far more sense to support people within their own communities.

“Responses to homelessness must be nationally driven but locally developed and delivered,” the report adds, “to ensure they are responsive to changing needs and that people can remain in their communities where they have family and other support networks.”