Housing is biggest barrier to escaping homelessness - report

Number of people sleeping rough in Cork has risen by over 50%, says Cork Simon

A chronic shortage of housing is proving the single biggest barrier to people escaping homelessness, with almost half of those in emergency accommodation a year ago still in that situation 12 months later, a new report by Cork Simon has found.

The report, Where are They Now, also found that what housing is available, it cannot be accessed by those in emergency accommodation - with some 48 per cent of those using emergency accommodation 12 months ago still in similar accommodation now.

Director of Cork Simon Community Dermot Kavanagh said Where are They Now is a follow-up report to How Did I Get Here?, a report which explored how people staying in Cork Simon's emergency shelter last summer found themselves homeless.

According to Mr Kavanagh, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of people sleeping rough in Cork, with 54 per cent more sleeping rough for one night or more in the nine months up until the end of September.


Extra beds have been added to Cork Simon’s emergency services, but no extra resources, and the number of people squatting in derelict buildings increased over the past nine months by 63 per cent, while the number staying with friends has increased by 31 per cent, he added.

The new report, which tracked some 70 people, found that some 38 per cent of the original group were housed successfully but, among the 48 per cent who were not, those most likely to remain in emergency accommodation were 18- to 34-years-olds and persons who were homeless long term.

The report found little difference between those housed and those still stuck in emergency accommodation a year on in terms of similar rates of early school leaving, long-term unemployment, poor mental health, problem alcohol use, literacy and learning difficulties.

Among those housed 12 months later there were higher rates of problem drug use, poor physical health and experience of the criminal justice system, while among those still in emergency accommodation there were higher rates of history of psychiatric care.

Mr Kavanagh said it was clear that “in the right housing, with the right support package, people are able to successfully address and manage the full range of complex needs that brought them to the point of homelessness in the first place.

“With the right housing and support package people are leaving homelessness behind them. The current housing crisis is the single biggest reason people are stuck in emergency accommodation for far too long.

“It’s why our shelter is literally overflowing at present - with the knock-on effect of more people ending up having to sleep rough on the street,” he said, adding that people are staying in emergency shelters because they have nowhere else to go.

Mr Kavanagh said waiting times for local authority housing are averaging from two to six years, while rents for private rented housing is moving beyond most people dependent on the Rent Supplement, which is being capped and thus preventing them moving out of homelessness.

“There’s also a shortage of one-bedroom flats - and the quality of those that are available can quite often be appalling while Cork Simon has had just a handful of housing become available for use this year,” Mr Kavanagh said.

Launching the report, Dr Niamh Hourigan of the School of Sociology and Philosophy at University College Cork, said the new report highlighted the reality of Ireland's current housing crisis.

“Despite all the supports these people are getting from Cork Simon and their own resilience in the face of immense challenges, it is clear big changes to national housing policy are urgently required,” she said.

"Not only is the Government's goal to end sleeping rough by 2016 slipping away, but spiralling rents mean that many more men, women and children in Ireland may be faced with the terrible reality of life on our streets."

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times