Homelessness In Ireland: Its Our Secret Shame by Annette J Dunlea

Published In The Carrigdhoun Newspaper 20th Oct 2012 p.11

Homelessness is among the biggest challenges faced by Irish society.Ireland’s cities have joined other rich, successful cities like London and San Francisco in developing a very visible homeless problem.Every night, the doorways of city centre offices and the portals of churches are occupied by people sleeping rough.The most evident aspect of this  crisis that is also spilling out onto the streets of Dublin,Cork, Waterford, Galway and other Irish towns. Emergency accommodation for the homeless is full to overflowing. Families are living in bed and breakfasts because there is nowhere else for them to stay. Unprecedented numbers of young people are living out of home.These young people are ill-equipped to deal with the brutality of the street culture they enter.The thousands at the bottom of council housing lists are only one aspect of Ireland’s hidden homeless. The Council of Europe defined the homeless in 1992 as ‘persons or families that are socially excluded from permanently occupying a personal and adequate home’. That definition includes squatters, people housed in B&Bs, hostels and other emergency accommodation, and people sleeping on the floors and couches of friends and family.Statistics on the crisis of Irish homelessness are not accurate.If there are no services for the homeless in a particular region, such as Cavan and Monaghan, then there are no homeless figures recorded.According to the Housing Statistics Bulletin for the September 1999 quarter, 5,234 people were homeless in Ireland, double the 2,501 reported in 1996. But the director of the Simon Community, Conaill MacRiocard, believes even these figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.The Simon Community estimates the real total of Irish homeless people to be over 10,000.Homeless people are transitory and do not stay anywhere long enough to be counted. Furthermore, the phenomenon of ‘hidden’ homelessness, where people stay on the floors and couches of friends, is impossible to assess. The stereotype of the homeless as bearded, alcoholic old men no longer applies.Homelessness can happen to anyone and affects people of all ages and backgrounds.

One aspect of homelessness is being roofless, being houseless, living in insecure housing or living in inadequate housing. This has a detrimental affect on people’s health and well-being, causing stress and countless practical difficulties, which is another, equally harmful, aspect of homelessness. Being homeless can make you sick; being sick can make you homeless.People who are homeless are often in poor mental and physical health. Drug and alcohol addiction can be an issue. Broken families, poor upbringings, inadequate education, dreadful life circumstances, unemployment, can all be contributing factors to homelessness. People who are most vulnerable and excluded often experience a combination of some or all of these factors, usually referred to as complex needs.Cork Simon’s response to homelessness starts on the street with the basics, a kind word, food and shelter. They provide emergency shelter and work with other organisations in Cork to ensure that there are enough beds so that no one has to sleep rough. As well as supporting people living in flats and apartments, Cork Simon has five houses across Cork City that are home to forty-seven men and women who need high levels of round-the-clock care and support.They provide access to health care, counseling, activities, education and training. Above all Cork Simon is understanding about people’s past, focusing on the practical needs of the person to-day; and by believing in people, giving hope for a better future through friendship and community.Ring them at 021 4278 728 for help if you are homeless.

Poverty is an underlying cause of homelessness.In trying to understand homelessness we cannot ignore or discount the importance of structural economic issues such as employment and wage rates, or the transmission of intergenerational poverty through families and sometimes whole communities, or the operation of the housing market as well as the quality of public service provision in areas such as health, welfare and education. The direction and impact of social policy and government decision-making is also important.Other factors, many of which are inter-related, also cause homelessness. These include: poor educational achievement, poor quality jobs or unemployment, high cost of buying or renting a home, difficult relationships at home, leaving institutional care, inadequate community support services, ill-health – including mental health – physical, sexual and mental abuse, disability, drugs and alcohol misuse, crime, and leaving prison. People sleeping rough, living on the streets or in shelters may experience absolute poverty.Often, people who are homeless have little or no support from family and friends.There is rarely a simple explanation for someone becoming homeless. Homelessness results from a combination of factors. In the past, explanations of homelessness tended to concentrate on it as an individual problem due to personal difficulties. Now there is a much wider recognition of how societal factors such as social policy and social exclusion together with structural issues such as poverty, unemployment and housing shortages contribute to homelessness. In working to eliminate homelessness, it is important that both individual and structural factors are taken into account.On an individual level, homelessness is frequently caused by a crisis in someone’s life. These might include leaving the parental home following arguments, marital or relationship breakdown, the death of a partner, leaving care or prison, mental health problems, increased drug or alcohol misuse, a financial crisis or mounting debts and eviction.Certain factors also create a greater risk of homelessness when a crisis occurs. Common background characteristics of people who become homeless have been identified as physical or sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence; a background of institutional care; offending behaviour and/or experience of prison; lack of social support network; debts; (especially rent and mortgage arrears); causing nuisance to neighbours (anti-social behaviour); drug or alcohol misuse; school exclusion and lack of qualifications; mental health problems and poor physical health.There is an insufficient supply of appropriate and affordable homes for people in poverty and people who are homeless. People who experience poverty may live in poor quality private rented housing, have rent arrears, be under eviction proceedings or have no security of tenure. Housing costs such as high rents increase the poverty risk of people living in private rented houses or flats. The majority of homeless people are single adults – the Homeless Agency’s 2008 survey found that in Dublin alone there were 1439 single homeless people – the majority of these were men, who tend to be homeless for longer periods than women.The Homeless Agency’s 2008 survey found that in Dublin there were 249 homeless families with children under 18 – 576 children in total. The majority of these families were in emergency bed & breakfast accommodation.

The most recent Government figures on homelessness in Ireland relate to the Local Authority Assessment of Social Housing Needs 2011, which shows 98,318 households were in need of social housing support in 2011. The largest category of need by far was those unable to meet the cost of accommodation – accounting for about two-thirds (66.8%) of households, with the next biggest category of need, medical and compassion reasons, accounting for one-tenth of households (9.7%) and this was followed by those involuntary sharing (8.7%). Older persons and homeless households respectively account for just over 2 per cent of need, while Traveller families, unfit accommodation and people with a disability each accounted for less than 2% of the country’s net housing need.

How can we rid Ireland of this problem?A reduction in poverty, more good quality and affordable homes for people on low incomes and better community based support services for children and families can all contribute to reducing homelessness. Better supports to assist homeless people to move into good quality secure jobs is also important. The supply of appropriate and affordable homes is a critical solution to homelessness. In particular, there needs to be a better mix of housing options for people who are homeless. There needs to be more housing options for single adults  and other groups who are homeless. Rent levels, in the private sector and in the social housing sector also need to be affordable. A number of national strategies are in place to reduce and prevent homelessness. These include the Integrated Strategy on Homelessness, the Youth Homelessness Strategy and the Homelessness Preventative Strategy. Local authorities also have Homeless Action Plans.Despite the bleak and deteriorating situation, all the agencies, statutory and voluntary, believe that Ireland’s homelessness problem can still be solved.Recent initiatives by the local authorities and the Department of Health demonstrate that statutory bodies are beginning to acknowledge and rectify the crisis. In Dublin, the Homeless Agency Partnership continues to develop effective partnership working between local authorities, the Health Service Executive and voluntary and community agencies working with people experiencing homelessness. Over the period, this has led to improvements in the quality and range of services provided for homeless persons and has resulted in a reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping. The support provided to date by government has also been crucial in bringing about positive change.

If you find yourself homeless in Cork,the first place you should go to is The Homeless Persons Unit, Drinan Street. This is part of the Adult Homeless Integrated Services. Here the Community Welfare Officers for homeless persons hold daily public clinics and regular outreach clinics.Clinic Times: Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.This is part of the Health Service Executive Adult Homeless Integrated Services.Here the Community Welfare : Officers for homeless persons hold daily public clinics and regular outreach clinics.The Community Welfare Service provides:income Maintenance (Supplementary Welfare Allowance),Medical Cards,Information/Advice,Referral for emergency accommodation  and referral to other services.They are open: 10.00 – 12.00 / 2.30 – 4.00 (Except Tuesday afternoons. A City Council Outreach Worker is available).The Homeless Persons Unit, Drinan Street, Cork: 021-4963 052. Threshold provides free and confidential advice information and support on housing issues., They also help with form filling and Local Authority Housing applications.Threshold operate a Placement Service for homeless people, each afternoon, Monday to Friday from 2.00pm – 5.00pm. Advice workers are on hand to deal with queries, arrange viewing with potential landlords in the Private Residential Sector, inform people on their rights and entitlements and help with form filling.They are open Mon-Fri: 9.30 – 1.00 & 2.00 – 5.00.They are located at: Threshold, 22 South Mall, Cork: 021-4278 848.Services for under 18’s are available at Liberty Street House, Liberty Street, Cork.Liberty Street House is for young people under 18 years who are out of home or at risk of being so.Contact tham at  021-4921 728.Riverview provides emergency accommodation for homeless girls aged 14 – 17 and short to medium term accommodation for girls 15 – 18 years.They are situated at :Good Shepherd Services,Riverview, 3 North Mall, Cork and Contact number is  021-4304 205.Pathways provides emergency accommodation for adolescent boys (under 18) who are out of home. It can be found at Pathways, 92 Ballyhooley Road, St Luke’s Cross, Cork.

Information on accommodation available to homeless people is available from your local authority and your HSE Local Health Office.Voluntary organisations such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, The Salvation Army and the Iveagh Trust may also be of assistance but this depends on your location in Ireland.The Society of St Vincent De Paul is the largest provider of emergency and short-term accommodation and services to people out of home in Ireland and is one of the largest homeless service providers in Europe.One can apply for social housing which is state housing at an affordable rate.To apply for state housing contact the housing department immediately as your application for housing needs to be processed as soon as possible.When applying for housing with Cork City Council or Cork County Council you will need to bring the following:1. PPSN no. for everyone (including children) 2. Birth Certificate for each child on the application 3. Certificate of income for all income earners on the application 4. Passport photo for applicant and joint applicant 5. Proof of address .If you wish to make an application for housing with Cork City Council contact:Housing Department, Central Fire Station, Anglesea Street, Cork.Monday to Friday 9.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m or you can telephone them at 021- 4966 222.If you wish to make an application for housing with South Cork County Council contact:Housing Dept. Floor 4, County Hall, Carrigrohane Road, Cork.Opening hours are:Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. or telephone them at 021- 4285 317.Community Welfare Services provide Supplementary Welfare Allowance is:1. A basic weekly payment paid while you are waiting for a social welfare payment to come through.A once off payment to help with the cost of unforeseen exceptional expenses.There are also supplements available, in particular rent, mortgage, diet and heating supplements.What do I need to bring with me?It is important to bring identification with you when you are applying for any assistance.Acceptable identification can include:Birth certificate,Evidence of income,Passport,P45,Social Welfare plastic card or a medical card.If you haven’t got a medical card the Community Welfare Officer in the Homeless Unit will assist you in making an application. If you are not eligible to qualify for a medical card you will be assessed for a G.P. visit card. A G.P. card entitles you to free G.P. visits only.
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About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

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