Recent figures released by the Central Statistics Office and Focus Ireland give rise to serious concern over the scale of Ireland’s housing crisis. The figures reveal that 99 families, who have not previously experienced homelessness, became newly homeless in Dublin in July of this year alone. These figures mark the peak of an upward trend in the number of homeless families since November 2016.
Young families represent the changed demographic in Irish homelessness. Figures released by the Central Statistics Office following the 2016 Census reveal a startling two-fold increase in the number of homeless in Ireland since 2011. Of the 6,906 homeless in Ireland, there are 896 families, with the majority (63%) being that a single parent, more specifically a single mother. The number of homeless children is perhaps the most chilling feature of these statistics. Of the record 2,895 homeless children in Ireland, 765 are below the age of 5. This makes such children the single largest group of homeless individuals in the country. It appears young children are the primary victim of our housing climate, a trend that that is all too apparent from our work at MLRC.
While young family are suffering, local authorities are also feeling the pressure. With more than 70% of Irish homeless being based in Dublin, the county’s four local authorities are struggling to deal with the influx, none more so than Fingal County Council. Paul Reid, its Chief Executive, recently commented on the Council’s capacity, or incapacity, to adequately address the crises. He says the reality is that homeless families are looking for emergency accommodation faster than families are being moved out of them and into permanent residences. This back log is at the heart of the crisis. Although the Government have committed to building more social housing (include a very welcome commitment to direct builds by local authorities), these houses will not become readily available until at the earliest, early 2018. As a result, more and more unsuitable means of emergency accommodation are being relied on to address the enormous back log of homeless families facing the council.
The sheer inadequacy of emergency accommodation is yet another dimension of the housing crises that MLRC has firsthand experience of. In our recent submission to the Minister for Housing and Planning, MLRC identified the systematic failures associated with our current emergency accommodation regime. Perhaps the most concerning failure noted in the submission, is the worrying number of unlawful refusals of emergency accommodation applications by housing authorities. Furthermore, should a family or individual be granted emergency accommodation, the over reliance on self-accommodation sees vulnerable families and individuals frequently unable to access emergency accommodation, or being placed in unsuitable hotels or B&B’s for indefinite periods of time. In our experience, the suffering of families in emergency accommodation continues to deepen. The state of limbo families find themselves in can be hugely distressing, particularly when young children are involved. Our submission calls for a number of actions to ensure that vulnerable families and individuals have their needs met at the earliest opportunity and are provided with suitable and appropriate emergency accommodation, without delay or issue.
The recent figures released by the Central Statistics Office and Focus Ireland reveal the changed demographic of homelessness in Ireland. Our own experiences at the MLRC confirm the stark reality of the housing crises. Young families and children are suffering, and while emergency accommodation measures do provide some respite, they remain a temporary and often inadequate solution to a more serious problem. We welcome the commitments of government and local authorities to step up the response to the crisis, and hope that the acute issues we are encountering in our casework are addressed so as to alleviate the pressure on the most vulnerable of our homeless families and individuals.