We are most concerned to see vulnerable families still being placed on night to night provision of homeless accommodation. We are seeing first-hand the very negative impact such provision is having on the health and well-being of young children and their distressed parents.
Just last week we met with a homeless family with four young children, who were being accommodated by the local authority on a night to night basis only. The family had been on the housing list for several years.
The family had been living in private rented accommodation but the landlord's family member was due to move in and on that basis the family were served with a valid notice of termination of their tenancy. Unable to source alternative private rented accommodation, the family presented as homeless. Rather than being put into a rolling booking for accommodation and placed in a hotel or B&B or even better a hub or family-suitable accommodation, the family were told they could only assess night to night provision.
For over six weeks, the family moved accommodation every day. The family, together with their four children ranging from 7 years to 23 months, have had to leave the B&B or hotel each morning, transport their older children to school from whichever location they had been placed in, and then pass the day and early evening with nowhere to go. The family spend long periods in libraries and shopping centres to avoid being out in the cold. The family had to ring after 4pm each day to confirm their need for accommodation that evening. They ordinarily did not receive confirmation of where they were staying each night until after 7pm and did not reach the accommodation until after 8pm. The family have had to rely on takeaways in the absence of cooking facilities and experienced difficulties washing and drying their clothes. A letter from their GP confirmed that the children were presenting frequently with chest injections and the doctor believed were brought on by the absence of excessive exposure to the outside.
After meeting with the family, we immediately telephoned the local authority to insist that the family be placed in stable and suitable emergency accommodation. We were advised by the housing section that there was a new policy in place that limited the access to the ‘self-accommodation option’ and prevented the family from booking themselves into a B&B or hotel for a week period or more. We asked that the case be immediately reviewed and followed up with written representations on behalf of the family.
Within two days, the local authority reviewed the case and confirmed the family were indeed eligible for Section 10 homeless accommodation and that they would be permitted to access a rolling booking. The local authority however stated that they had no availability in any family hub accommodation and stated that they do not operate a waiting list for their hubs, so were not able to give any indication as to when suitable family accommodation would be available.
While we are relieved that this matter resolved very quickly, a number of concerns arise.
Firstly, there was no apparent consideration by the local authority of the needs or best interests of the very young children in this case. There was no apparent consideration of the very serious difficulties night to night provision was causing for the family. This was despite excellent submissions made by an advocate who was assisting the family and who set out the difficulties very clearly in written correspondence to the local authority. The manner in which the emergency accommodation was provided failed to vindicate the best interests of the child and there appears to be no consideration of the Constitutional protection of children by the local authority, when exercising its statutory obligations.
Secondly, we are concerned at the absence of suitable family-type accommodation by way of a hub or other alternatives available to this family. There appear to be significant barriers to accessing family-suitable accommodation. We note that there appears to be a complete lack of transparency in relation to how families access hub or family-suitable accommodation; we are also concerned at the lack of any waiting list that would ensure there was some exit route for this and other families many of whom have been residing in hotels and B&Bs for extended periods.
For more information on Mercy Law Resource Centre’s work, please see www.mercylaw.ie.