Youth homelessness exacerbated, not solved, by emergency services

Conference hears call for radical change in how youth homelessness is addressed

Youth homelessness is exacerbated, not solved, by current emergency services, a conference in Dublin has been told.

Speaking on Thursday in the RDS at the 2019 conference of homeless agency Focus Ireland, Dr Paula Mayock, Trinity College Dublin, said a "complete re-orientation" was needed.

“We need to stop people getting into homelessness. We need prevention. We need a new homelessness prevention strategy that directly addresses the needs of youth and their situations because the reasons they become homeless are different (to adults),” she said.

The theme of this year's conference is Ending Youth Homelessness: Practice, Policy and Campaigning. Delegates were told that the number of young people aged 18 to 24 who are homeless in Ireland is now 910, an increase of 109 per cent (from 435) since 2014. Focus Ireland has called on the Government to "urgently" develop a national youth homeless strategy.


Such youth homelessness was “mainly related to poverty and family difficulties”, Dr Mayock said. Noting that her comments “probably extend to all forms of homelessness”, she said “basically our major investment is into emergency services, that piece in the middle”.

“Emergency services have been long since documented and proven to exacerbate problems rather than to ameliorate the problems,” she said.

From TCD’s School of Social Work and Social Policy, she said “prevention is, basically, where the emphasis is internationally”.


Such tactics as going into communities and investing in school-based preventive strategies have been shown to reduce homelessness among young people by 40 per cent, Dr Maycock said. There are examples in Australia.The Canadians have a new road map to prevention, she said.

“In Wales they have legislation. Local authorities must prevent homelessness and these measures are proven to be effective. Here we don’t have that investment,” she said.

In Ireland “the focus is reactive, so we wait for people to become homeless and then we pop them into emergency settings, to hostels. It’s an institutional setting and it’s catastrophic and damaging for young people, and which perpetuate the problem.

“We always need a level of emergency but we cannot continue to endorse and to stand over a service system that is dominated by emergency provision,” Dr Mayock said.

She said the housing crisis was a key driver and “because of the housing crisis, we can’t get people out of homelessness”.

So we have an inflow and a very slow outflow. Particularly for young people, getting into housing will be extremely difficult as these young people have no financial resources,” she said.

When young people remain homeless they embark on an institutional circuit moving repeatedly between hostels, B&Bs, in and out of hospitals, possibly psychiatric hospitals, and places of detention, she said.

“We also know that they tend to disengage with service. They become service fatigued,” she said.

“So what is happening here of course is that the service system itself is driving patterns of homelessness.”

The essential point was that “service systems shape outcomes”.

“They also dictate the fate of young people who get caught up in these systems,” she said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times