Local authorities ‘unsympathetic’ to homeless families

Focus Ireland report interviewed 25 families who had exited homelessness

One parent said: “Being homeless was so overwhelming. I never felt safe. I never slept a full night. I never felt the kids were safe. I was a nervous wreck at the end of it all.”  Photograph: Aidan Crawley

One parent said: “Being homeless was so overwhelming. I never felt safe. I never slept a full night. I never felt the kids were safe. I was a nervous wreck at the end of it all.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Local authorities must stop telling homeless families to find their own emergency accommodation, a new report on the housing crisis recommends.

Commissioned by Focus Ireland, the report says some local authority staff take a “moralising” and “unsympathetic” approach to these families, many of whom are “traumatised” and fear having their families broken up.

Titled Finding A Home: Families’ Journeys out of Homelessness, the report draws on detailed interviews with 25 families who exited homelessness between March 2014 and September 2016.

A majority (16) had become homeless because they had to leave their private rented home, with domestic violence or overcrowding among other reasons. The majority (20) were headed by lone parents, of which 17 were mothers. Nine had been homeless a year or less, 14 between one and two years, and two for an unknown duration.

The hugely negative impact of homelessness on the families is clear throughout the report. One parent said: “Being homeless was so overwhelming. I never felt safe. I never slept a full night. I never felt the kids were safe. I was a nervous wreck at the end of it all.”

Another said they had to “toughen up” when they became homeless “because there were people screaming in your face and you had to defend yourself. I didn’t want my son to think I was weak. He needed me to be strong”.

Relationship with children

Homelessness impacted on parents’ relationships with their children.

Some worried their children saw things while homeless they shouldn’t have, including, “children taken off their parents” and “the ambulance came to treat a woman who had taken an overdose on the landing outside our room”.

One said their four year-old son asked if they had become homeless because they had done something bad, and if so, what had they done.

The trauma of being homeless, on the parents, on the children and on the family units, influenced their preference for council housing. It was “seen by the families to offer security of tenure, affordable rent, acceptable standards and, in most cases, locations where people can settle in communities in which they are comfortable”, the report said.

“In contrast the families who were living in HAP [Housing Assistance Payment paid to those placed in the private rented sector] generally reported finding it affordable but not secure.”

Some local authorities told families facing homelessness to come back to them when they were actually homeless. Despite the Government’s emphasis on prevention few families were told by the local authority of agencies such as Threshold that might help prevent homelessness.

The practice of families being asked to source their own emergency accommodation, referred to as “self-accommodation” was “inconsistent with the expectations of the Housing Act, 1988”, and “should be discontinued, as should the use of the term,” says the report.