On 11 December 2019 Deputy Noel Rock, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, launched our report entitled “Report on Lived Experiences of Homeless Families”. We were delighted to also be joined by published poet and playwright Colm Keegan who shared a powerful poem on homelessness and read a piece entitled ‘home’ at the event.
The report is based on MLRC’s extensive engagement with homeless families and seeks to bring their voices to the fore of the policy debate on homelessness. The report draws on MLRC’s work with over 800 families experiencing homelessness in the last two years alone. It not only sets out the challenging experiences of these families but also includes their own words describing their experiences, as well as analysis from medical professionals on the impact of the homeless crisis on these families, including young children.
The report includes voices of MLRC clients, speaking of their experience of homelessness, including one mother who says:
“My children speak all the time about being homeless and ask me when we will have our own home. The younger children say they are ashamed of being homeless and will not have any of their friends to play. We do not have a proper place or set up for these visits and we generally do not go to other people’s houses as it reminds us on what we are missing out on.”
One clinical psychologist, who is quoted in the report, says of one family MLRC assisted that it is very close to breaking down and talks of the fundamental disruption of family functioning as a result of the unstable homeless accommodation.
In the report, a social worker comments on the impact of homelessness on one family and their young children:
“The sense of stigma and hopelessness that the children feel is corrosive and damaging to their self-esteem. It makes it hard for them to make friends with other children in school, as they fear being judged or excluded.”
A doctor reports that children that she was supporting were falling asleep at their desks after getting up at 5am to get to school, and becoming nutritionally deficient due to lack of cooking facilities.
At the launch and in the report, MLRC highlighted the shortcomings of the policy response to homelessness. Many families featured in the report had been in highly unsuitable hotels and B&Bs for prolonged periods. The report highlights that three years after the Government policy statement on housing, Rebuilding Ireland, the government have still failed in their commitment to cease reliance on commercial hotels and B&Bs as a form of emergency accommodation.
The report was launched at a time of desperate crisis in homelessness in the lead up to the Christmas holiday season. One family featured in the report were contemplating their fourth Christmas in homelessness, at the time of the launch.
The housing crisis has been ever growing since early 2014, showing little sign of abating. In October 2019, the number of homeless people in Ireland reached 10,514 including 3,826 children, which constituted the highest number since the Department started recording figures. Recent figures show a slight decrease in these figures: as of December 2019, 9,731 people were recorded as homeless by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Of this figure 3,422 are children. Despite this slight fall, MLRC remains alarmed at the number of people in particular children who remain homeless and the failure of current policy to meet the needs of homeless families, as shown starkly I in this report.
The report sets out six areas of concern in relation to homeless accommodation provision to families and makes a number of recommendations, including most urgently:
- To cease the use of one night only homeless accommodation for homeless families, which is on the increase yet is the most detrimental form of homeless accommodation ;
- For local authorities to cease reliance on commercial hotels and B&Bs as a form of emergency provision to homeless families;
- To place an upper time limit on the period a homeless family can stay in hotel and B&B emergency accommodation;
- Introduction of a best interests of the child consideration for local authorities when providing homeless accommodation and supports to families
The cases cited in this new MLRC report are not isolated but rather represent experiences common to many homeless families. The report calls for an urgent shift in Government policy to meaningfully address the dysfunctions and failures in the homeless system, so that children do not continue to experience adversity and damage to their well-being, health and educational attainment. MLRC believes that the majority of recommendations in the report are achievable and could be implemented quickly.
Speaking at the launch, Deputy Rock endorsed a number of the recommendations set out by MLRC and noted that a number of these recommendations were traversed in the recent reports launched by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affair which focused on Child and Family Homelessness. We hope that cross party consensus on the changes needed in the area of family homelessness will give the urgent impetus needed to make these changes a reality.
MLRC is most grateful to Deputy Noel Rock and poet Colm Keegan for kindly speaking at the event and to our many supporters who continue to enable our work.