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Hidden homelessness

  • 04/06/2018
  • Author:bridgetmccall

Four leading charities call for urgent action

Mother and daughter

Four leading charities have called for urgent action to address hidden homelessness.

Society of St Vincent de Paul, ​Barnardos, Focus Ireland, and Simon Communities in Ireland are deeply concerned about the thousands of individuals, families and children who are experiencing hidden homelessness.

These individuals and families have no place to call home and are often doubling and tripling up, staying with friends or relatives as they have nowhere else to go. Their living situation is precarious, unsuitable and unsustainable. Despite experiencing many of the same challenges faced by those living in emergency accommodation, those experiencing hidden homeless don’t qualify for many support services.

The charities are raising awareness of the lived experience of these individuals and families through sharing the real and personal stories of what it is like experiencing hidden homelessness. These are available in a booklet called 'Hidden Homeless'.

Example of a 'lived life' from the 'Hidden Homelessness' booklet

"Jenny is seven years old. She shares a single bed with her mam in a small room in a house-share. All of Jenny’s clothes and toys fit into two drawers under the bed. There is a TV in their room and a fridge for some food and snacks.

"Jenny is the only child that lives in the house. The other grown-ups that live there stay up late each night playing loud music and sometimes shouting. There are often visitors coming and going until after midnight. Jenny doesn’t like spending time in the living room or the kitchen. When she’s home she mainly stays in the bedroom. Every afternoon she does her homework on the bedroom floor while her mam cooks dinner in the kitchen. They usually eat dinner on their bed while they watch TV.

"Despite not being very happy at home, Jenny is doing well in school and has lots of friends. She often goes to her friend’s house after school to play. She has so much fun playing games in her friend’s living room where there’s loads of space to spread out their toys. Jenny makes up excuses whenever her friends ask can they visit her house. She hasn’t told any of them that she shares a bed with her mam or that she eats her dinner on the bed every night.

"Jenny can still remember when she and her mam had a home of their own. It was a nice apartment with a bright kitchen where Jenny used to eat breakfast every day. They had to move out of the apartment as the building was being refurbished. Rents in their town had increased so much that all Jenny’s mam could afford was a single room in a house-share. Her mam said it would only be for a little while, but Jenny has had two birthdays since they moved in.

"For the last year Jenny has been going to the Barnardos Breakfast Club every day before school. She really likes eating a meal at a big table and talking with her friends every morning. The grown-ups who work there are really nice and are always willing to talk to Jenny about anything that’s bothering her.

"But more than anything Jenny just wants to live somewhere that she can eat meals at a table with her mam and have her friends over to play."

Policy recommendations

The group also identified a number of policy recommendations which would help prevent hidden homelessness; support those already living in hidden homelessness; and reduce the number of people who have no choice but to turn to emergency accommodation.

  • Help reduce the number of households turning to emergency accommodation by fast-tracking an enhanced prevention system in local authorities nationwide, to ensure that people experiencing hidden homelessness can access supports such as enhanced Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) that are in line with market rates, without first having to become officially homeless.

  • Issue Departmental guidelines to all Local Authorities to direct that all households in receipt of HAP remain on the primary social housing waiting list.

  • Review and support all state funded information and advice services to ensure that they are reaching those experiencing hidden homelessness and providing tailored information and advice on accessing supports and securing a home.

  • Improve security of tenure in the private rented sector by closing existing loopholes under Section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act, requiring more stringent eviction criteria from landlords who own more than three properties, and progress the introduction of full rent certainty. This will reduce the number of people losing their rented accommodation.

  • Enhance mainstream social services to ensure that households experiencing hidden homelessness can receive supports including: family support services, leap cards to facilitate attendance at school, medical and therapeutic appointments, free quality after school services and access to breakfast and lunch clubs.

Comments from the four charities

Barnardos

Fergus Finlay, from Barnardos Ireland, said: “Right now, thousands of children and families are experiencing hidden homelessness – living in overcrowded, unsuitable and insecure accommodation because they have nowhere else to go.

"This experience profoundly affects a child’s social, emotional and physical development. At a basic level, there is no space to play or do homework, children often have to share beds with siblings or parents so there is a lack of privacy or personal space. These children are failing to meet their developmental milestones and falling behind in school. The uncertainty of where they’ll live and seeing the stress experienced by their parents leaves them worried and anxious for their future.”

Focus Ireland

Wayne Stanley, of Focus Ireland, said: “There is a grave need to rethink how people in these circumstances can be supported to avoid homeless accommodation and establish more sustainable homes.

"When the housing system responds to the needs of this group with ‘gate-keeping’, bureaucratic measures limiting access to support, the result is a lot of wasted effort and conflict that ends up breaking down the individuals or families support network. This leads to them entering traditional homeless services and even to accusations of ‘gaming the system’.

"If the State is serious about doing more to prevent people from becoming homeless and work towards everyone having a place to call home, a range of preventative supports are needed to reach out to these individuals and families in crisis.”

Simon Communities in Ireland

Niamh Randall, Simon Communities in Ireland, said: “The Simon Communities all around the country are seeing massive pressure on the housing system; particularly in the private rental sector and in the lack of social and affordable housing. Emergency accommodation is overflowing so when people present to their local authority, they are often asked if they have anywhere else they can stay? They stay with family or friends, in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

"The stress this creates is huge. They remain stuck because they cannot afford a place to rent and they cannot afford to buy. Eventually some end up in emergency accommodation as these temporary and unsustainable options breakdown. This has to change. The State must build and procure secure social and affordable homes for people. We need to move away from the heavy reliance on the private sector for the provision of social housing and ensure a greater focus on affordability.”

Society of St Vincent de Paul

Jennifer Thompson, Society of St Vincent de Paul, said: “When a household first loses their home, they are often forced to rely on their support networks of family and friends. Unfortunately it often isn’t long before the pressure and strain of overcrowded conditions begin to show. Lack of space to store belongings, increased financial pressure on the host household, and the uncertainty of not knowing when, or if, a house may become available, all take their toll. It is vital that the scale and impact of hidden homelessness is acknowledged, greater access to homeless supports and information is provided, and sustainable, secure housing solutions found.”

Source: Society of St Vincent de Paul press release: Leading NGOs called for urgent action to address hidden homelessness

Please note: Names and identifying details have been changed in the case study quoted and the photo is a stock Turn2us image.

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