Homelessness study points to multifaceted nature of problem

Family circumstances and loss of private rental accommodation among key factors

Food parcels being prepared after a Christmas Day dinner for people in need in the RDS. Photograph: Frank Miller

Food parcels being prepared after a Christmas Day dinner for people in need in the RDS. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Families whose stated reason for seeking emergency homeless accommodation was a relationship breakdown may previously have lost their rented housing, Eileen Gleeson, the head of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, has said.

When families present themselves at emergency accommodation services, they are asked the reason they became homeless, and the report reflects that initial interview, she said, but may not tell the full story. “We try to make the initial form as easy as we can because we are dealing with people who are already traumatised.”

Ms Gleeson was commenting on a new report from the executive that found more families were becoming homeless because of “family circumstances” including relationship breakdown and overcrowding than were being evicted from private rented accommodation.

Of the 450 families who sought emergency accommodation services in the first six months of this year, 30 per cent said they had to do so because a family relationship or a relationship with a partner broke down. Almost one in 10 put their homelessness down to overcrowding in their family home.

However, Ms Gleeson said follow-up interviews with these families later this year indicated that many had been living in the private rented sector and had returned to the family home, before approaching homeless services as a “last resort” when these family arrangements broke down.

“A significant number of those presenting from the home of family or friends had previously been accommodated in private rented accommodation but were forced to leave, and temporarily shared accommodation while they continued to search for alternative accommodation,” she said.

“They consequently presented to homeless services as they were unable to source affordable accommodation in the region.”

Mediation services

Fianna Fáil councillor David Costello said those who were at risk of homelessness because of problems in the family home needed to be offered mediation services to prevent them from becoming homeless.

“We need to invest in key workers who can intervene and see if there is a way to help people stay in the family home. An extension, or an attic conversion to create more space would make a lot more sense that spending €2,000 a month on a hotel.”

In some cases, such as domestic violence situations, there may be no alternative to emergency accommodation, he said, “but if we were able to resolve some cases of just general overcrowding we would have more space available for people who were the victims of domestic violence and cannot return home”.

Sinn Féin councillor and chairman of the council’s housing committee, Daithí Doolan said the report challenged “myths and misinformation that to be homeless means you are dysfunctional or a burden”.

“The report demonstrates that family circumstances is the main cause of homelessness today,” he said. “This is followed closely at 47 per cent by forced departure from the private rented sector being the cause of families being made homeless.

“This report highlights the urgent need to build adequate council and affordable homes to meet the needs of families across Dublin.”

Ms Gleeson said the executive does have a “prevention team” that encourages people to return to their family homes or other accommodation, where they can receive assistance to avoid homelessness.