Problem of homelessness in Traveller community highlighted at webinar

State plays ‘huge role’ in the homelessness as local authorities regularly evicts Travellers

A webinar heard that while 22% of Travellers in the southwest could be classified as homeless, more than 85% were either homeless or in insecure and inadequate accommodation

A webinar heard that while 22% of Travellers in the southwest could be classified as homeless, more than 85% were either homeless or in insecure and inadequate accommodation

 

While 22 per cent of Travellers in the southwest could be classified as homeless, more than 85 per cent were either homeless or in insecure and inadequate accommodation, a webinar heard on Tuesday.

Hosted by the Cork and Kerry Regional Traveller Accommodation Working Group, an NGO, the webinar was told the findings were replicated across the State.

The State played a “huge role” in this as local authorities regularly evicted Travellers into homelessness, while the the Department of Housing’s reliance on the private sector to provide social housing prevented Travellers exiting homelessness, said Rory Hearne, a lecturer in applied social studies at Maynooth University.

“If you are entitled to social housing the main way [to access it] is through the Housing Assistance Payment [HAP]. Travellers are literally excluded from social housing because of the discrimination by many private landlords,” he said.

Dr Hearne said the main exit route from homelessness was HAP, again into the private rented sector. “There is literally no exit route for Travellers so again we see State policy has compounded the Traveller accommodation crisis.”

Dr Samantha Morgan Williams, co-ordinator of the Traveller equality and justice project at University College Cork, presented a report A hidden Crisis: Traveller Homelessness in the South-West’. Drawing on data gathered in the spring/summer 2018, she said 397 Traveller households had been surveyed.

The finding that 22 per cent were homeless but 85.6 per cent were either homeless or sharing other families’ accommodation, so-called “couch surfing” or living in trailers in families’ back yards, “really speaks to the depth of the issue and the depth of inadequate Traveller accommodation provisions for Travellers in the region and nationally”.

She also said local authorities had a “role” in high levels of homelessness and precarious housing for Travellers.

Manpower

Breda O’Donoghue, a Traveller activist in Cork city, said she had sat on Cork City Council’s Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee for more than 20 years, as well as a number of other Traveller accommodation bodies.

“The shocking thing is that all that manpower that has gone into those committees at different level and we still have not seen any real progress on Traveller accommodation in the Cork area.”

She provided a case study of a family evicted by a local authority from public land 11 years ago. Advised by the same council to apply for social housing, they were approved to go on a waiting list for a three-bedroom house. In the meantime they moved into their parents’ backyard in a trailer.

Recently they went back to the council to get an update, to be told the council had no record of their application. “They were told they couldn’t be contacted over the previous decade as they had no fixed address.

“So we have a family, their youngest boy is now 10, who have records to say their children were in school the last 10 years and we have a local authority telling us they have only three months on the list because they can’t find their records from 10 years ago…This is a major barrier and this is happening to families right across the board,” said Ms O’Donoghue.

Brian Harvey, independent social policy analyst, said the “architecture” of the State’s approach to Traveller accommodation was “untransparent”, “State centric” and tended to exclude Travellers.

Units and committees in the Department of Housing and in local authorities addressed homelessness and Travellers as separate issues. “It matters a lot... They are far from separate. They are totally connected.”