Traveller living conditions are a ‘revolving door’ to homelessness – report

Unpublished report identifies overcrowding, evictions and discrimination as key issues

Discrimination is a “key factor” in the “striking” over-representation of Travellers in homelessness, and “anti-racism training” is needed in statutory bodies dealing with the community, an unpublished HSE-funded report warns.

The “inability/failure of local authorities provide accommodation is apparent as ever” with “discrimination in housing … a persistent, distinct and severe problem”.

The report, The Traveller Community and Homelessness, finds Travellers are almost eight times more likely to live in severely overcrowded homes than settled families, while living conditions on Traveller sites are leading to a “revolving door” for young Traveller families in and out of homelessness.

The report, compiled by independent researcher Brian Harvey and commissioned by Pavee Point, was due to be published by the Traveller advocacy organisation on June 22nd. Publication was controversially cancelled by Pavee Point the day before. The Irish Times has seen the slide presentation that would have been given at the publication.


The first comprehensive examination of the links between inadequate Traveller accommodation and Traveller homelessness finds 39 per cent of Traveller households are overcrowded (with fewer rooms than people in the home), compared with 6 per cent of those in the general population.

It finds “Travellers are strikingly over-represented in the general homeless population” and that in many cases “site conditions precipitate homelessness … especially evictions”. This is particularly an issue where new household formations, unable to find site accommodation elsewhere, share bays on existing sites. Due to overcrowding, local authorities may remove their caravans.

This leads to “revolving doors” of families leaving sites, couch-surfing, living in cars, ending up in emergency accommodation and often returning to the site.

‘Unfit’ systems

Mr Harvey consulted widely with Travellers. He found many had a “poor experience” of housing and homelessness services, with their names being removed from housing lists without their knowledge; being offered unsuitable social housing; and having to “bid” for social housing against non-Traveller households, a process in which many recounted facing discrimination.

Among his suggestions are that independent agencies, similar to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Northern Ireland Housing Trust established 50 years ago, be established to tackle housing discrimination and to provide social housing independently of local authorities. "We lag half a century behind," he says.

Current systems are “unfit to measure the problem” as local authorities and housing bodies refuse to use ethnic identifiers despite most Travellers not objecting to being asked their ethnicity.

The “institutional architecture divided” Traveller housing from homelessness, so in policy they are treated as separate issues despite being related, says the report.

The slides say: “Problems neither addressed nor understood”, systems are “untransparent, sclerotic” and “Traveller participation not resourced”.

Family formations

Among specific issues are Traveller family formations, which tend to begin at a younger age and to be larger than among the general population. This “appears to be little recognised at policy level and for which not much planning has been done”.

Given the important role site evictions play in Traveller homelessness there should be: “No evictions until mediation [is] exhausted” and “alternative accommodation” sourced.

It calls for “annual independent” reports on Traveller homelessness; for Traveller homelessness to be specifically examined in all homelessness action plans; and for all organisations working with homeless Travellers to receive what is known as section 10 funding under the 1988 Housing Act.

It also says Traveller housing issues and Traveller homelessness should be recognised as interlinked in policy and practice.

The role of the 520 approved housing bodies is highlighted. Just one, Cena, is concerned with Traveller housing, though Depaul and Sonas are “known to help” Travellers, it says.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times