Homeless families face ‘considerable hardship’

Report highlights unsafe conditions and health risks in emergency accommodation

Kitty Holland interviews eighteen year old homeless woman Nadine Garland currently housed in appalling conditions in a south Dublin city B & B with her one year old son Hunter. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

The “considerable hardship” experienced by homeless families and their children is set out in a report published on Friday by the Housing Agency.

The damage to mental and physical health, the adverse impact on nutrition, the damage to children’s education and the financial strain associated with homelessness are all highlighted by the report.

The inappropriate, unsafe and unclean condition of some of the emergency accommodation into which homeless families are placed is described in Family Experiences of Pathways into Homelessness.

It says the rules, curfews and lack of access to cooking and laundry facilities in this accommodation “infantilises” parents.

Families said the main reasons they were homeless were “lack of affordable private rented accommodation”, “rent allowance not accepted by many landlords” and a rent supplement that did not meet “real rents”.

“Homelessness is one of the most traumatic events that can happen to a family,” the report says.

It states that these families “made strenuous efforts to obtain private rented accommodation”. Many described “trying 40, 50, even 60 places”.

Many stayed with other family members before finally presenting to homeless services.

The report comes as the latest data from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive shows the number of families losing their homes increased every month this year.

There were 1,275 children in emergency accommodation in the capital last month, a 63 per cent increase in homeless children since January .

Some 30 families were interviewed for this study, described as a “representative sample” of Dublin’s homeless family population.

Every family had lost its home in the private rented sector. The majority (24) had never been homeless before.

Among those interviewed were:

- A mother with three children who had been in a hotel for two months, having previously slept in a car for a month and stayed with family for a year;

- A mother with six children who had become homeless after the suicide of her partner, after which the family slept outdoors briefly before being accommodated in hotels;

- A father with two children who had stayed with his mother before being placed in a B&B for seven months, and,

- A couple with one child who had spent two years in a B&B.

‘Negative effects’

“Being homeless was found to have negative effects on the physical and mental health of families, children and on their schooling,” the report says.

“Most families had lost the vast majority of their personal belongings.”

An “absolute priority” for the parents was “ensuring that their children’s education is disturbed as little as possible.

“Going to school was one of the few things families identified as helping them to maintain some sense of normality.”

However, in most cases, they had been accommodated at great distance from schools.

Families described journeys of up to two hours each way, “that involved getting children up at 6.30am for breakfast to get the bus first, then a walk to the second bus, then school, then the same journey in reverse.

“This was particularly taxing in winter and for smaller children.”

Homelessness is shown to be expensive, with families spending up to €60 a week on public transport, €35 a week on launderettes and on having to eat out or get takeaways as they could not store or cook food. Family diets also suffered.

B&Bs were found to be “particularly difficult” for families.

Families in some B&Bs said that there were active drug users, people screaming at each other, music played late at night, children being taken into care and people dying at the premises.

Some were worried about cleanliness, damp, noise and cold.

They said that the many rules “are disempowering and clearly have the effect of making parents feel like they were being treated like children”.

“Parents struggled to stay positive for their children and tried to protect them from their stress but this was hard,” the report says.

Parents reported children crying and being inconsolable because of the situation.

The low-income families, who had been long-term renters, had been “frozen” out of the private rented sector, the report said.