Varadkar claim on homelessness ‘damaging’ to charities

European group says homelessness is ‘extremely difficult’ to compare internationally

A claim by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last year that Ireland has low levels of homelessness compared to other countries was “damaging” to the work of charities working in the sector, a European homelessness body has said.

Feantsa, an umbrella group for non-profit services that support homeless people in Europe, will publish its Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2018 on Wednesday.

At a media conference at the Fine Gael national conference in November, Mr Varadkar said Ireland "has one of the lowest homelessness [RATES)]by international standards compared with our peers".

“They’re the stats,” he said. “We can provide them for you. That is a good thing in Ireland that we have a low level of homelessness compared to our peer countries.”


Speaking ahead of the publication of its report, Feantsa director Freek Spinnewijn said the headlines generated by Mr Varadkar were “unhelpful”.

“Recent headlines were made when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar unhelpfully claimed that Ireland had low levels of homelessness compared to other countries,” he said.

“Homelessness is famously extremely difficult to compare across EU countries due to different data collection methods and so such claims are simply damaging to the many NGOs and associations working to end homelessness in Ireland.

“The rate at which homelessness has increased in Ireland, especially among families is extremely worrying. The lack of long-term solutions or targeted strategies to get homeless families out of long-term homelessness is very worrying.

“Without these, the short-term interventions risk normalising what are very high numbers of homeless families.”

The report by Feantsa found that between November 2014 and November 2017, there was a 145 per cent increase in the number of homeless people; a 286 per cent increase in the number of homeless families; and an increase of 276 per cent in the number of homeless children.

In November 2017, 8,857 people were in State-managed emergency accommodation, including 1,530 families, 5,524 adults and 3,333 children. More than one homeless person in three is a child.

The report also noted a "huge hike" in spending on emergency measures. Dublin City Council spent €39 million on hotel nights for homeless people in 2016, while €10.7 million was spent on prevention and supported housing.

“In Ireland, despite the ambitious, concrete and measurable design of the national strategy to fight homelessness coupled with a strategy for building affordable housing, the results have not materialised,” the report said.

“This is partly due to the property market situation in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, when construction, particularly of social housing, was almost entirely halted.

“At the same time, emergency management of the homelessness crisis, which affects families with children in particular, spurred political decision-makers to take short-term initiatives such as the creation of family hubs.

“While improvements in accommodation for homeless families are always welcome, there has been criticism of the absence of long-term solutions and of a targeted strategy to get families out of homelessness in the long-term.

“Without these, the short-term interventions alone risk normalising what are very high numbers of homeless families.”

The report also found that a quarter of poor households are financially unable to keep their home adequately warm. Non-EU citizens (13.5 per cent) are six times more likely to experience overcrowding than Irish citizens (2.1 per cent).

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter