Why are so many families becoming homeless?
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 halt has meant more people than ever are renting their homes. Almost one in five households now live in a privately rented home compared to one in 10, 10 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.
How many people are homeless?
There were 9,724 people homeless in October 2018 across Ireland. This figure includes adults and children. The number of homeless families has increased by 17 per cent since October 2017. 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.
Are families affected?
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 October 2018, there were 1,709 families accessing emergency accommodation. This includes 3,725 children. Focus Ireland publishes regular insights into family homelessness reports which aim to further our understanding in developing effective responses to the problem.
Why are so many families losing their homes?
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 their 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.
How many children are homeless?
In October 2018, there were 3,725 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.
Why is having a home so important?
Focus Ireland 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 recognised 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 the European Federation of National Associations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA).