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Large families and single people increasingly unable to exit homelessness

Latest figures underline collapse of Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) scheme as a way out of homelessness, say agencies

The number of homeless families in Dublin finding homes in the private rented sector has fallen to its lowest rate in five years, new figures show.

Data from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) show just six families exited homelessness into private rented homes with the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) last October, while 12 got social housing. That month, there were 1,120 homeless families in Dublin, including 2,529 children.

In its most recent monthly report, the DRHE says: “The fall in families exiting homelessness to tenancies is concerning. The number of families moving to Hap from emergency accommodation... is the lowest in at least five years.”

It said the monthly average number of families exiting emergency accommodation to tenancies in 2022 is 33, compared with 57 in 2021, 94 in 2020 and 95 in 2019.


A total of 906 families newly presented as homeless across Dublin between January and October last year. Just 329 exited during the same period.

Frontline agencies said the figures underline the “collapse” of Hap as an exit route from homelessness. Larger families who need four- or five-bedroom homes are particularly “blocked” from exiting and can expect to spend several years homeless, they warned.

The longer children spend in homelessness, the greater the potential for significant long-term trauma, including physical ill-health, emotional distress, developmental delay, reduced self-esteem, heightened anxiety and lower educational attainment, according to psychologist Tony Bates, who trains Focus Ireland staff on trauma-informed care.

While homelessness does not always mean children are traumatised, they are at greater risk, he said. “The children find themselves uprooted, dislocated. They lose friends, connections... Some are exposed in the shelters to situations where they are confined and they become very hyper, agitated, develop behavioural problems,” said Dr Bates. Those that do best, he added, are those whose parents are best supported.

Agencies supporting families have called for a review of the Government’s Housing for All strategy in light of spiralling rents, reduced private-rental sector capacity, increased cost of living and the looming end of the eviction ban in October.

“Authorities must take steps to ensure long-term homeless are prioritised for social housing as it comes on stream. There are a significant number of families now homeless more than two years,” said Mike Allen, head of advocacy with Focus Ireland.

Dermot Murphy, operations manager with Depaul, says there “just isn’t the housing stock that meets the needs of larger families, and they get blocked”.

Both agencies are concerned about spiralling numbers of homeless single adults for whom Hap is “not functioning well”. In October there were 3,673 single adults homeless in Dublin compared with 3,085 a year previously. Just 35 exited to tenancies in October.

A DRHE spokeswoman said: “We know that large family sizes struggle to get Hap and are more reliant on social housing as an exit.”

A Department of Housing spokesman said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien had increased the discretionary uplift local authorities could pay for Hap tenancies to 35 per cent and had expanded the couples’ rate to single people.

“Minister O’Brien has also made clear to local authorities that where there is a risk of a tenant being evicted into homelessness as a result of a landlord selling the home, that the [local authority] will be supported by the department to purchase the home should that be appropriate. Local authorities have been encouraged to be as proactive as possible in the return of vacant properties to use.”

The “obvious” solution, says Mr Murphy, is a “massive” increase in social housing supply. Though the private rental sector is “part of the solution”, it needs a “massive overhaul... The reality is that we have to work with our private landlords, with the DRHE and the department to constantly look at how we can improve the sector.”

Mr Allen said: “What we need to ensure at this point is that we hold the sector at the level it is, rather than [have it] totally collapsing. It is not going to present an opportunity to get large numbers of homeless families out of homelessness.”

Both predict the end of the eviction ban in April will lead to “inevitable evictions”, with further increases in family and single homelessness.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times