The latest child homelessness figures are deeply concerning. Child homelessness has increased by 55% in the year from December 2015 to December 2016. Data from the Department of the Environment for February of this year, show that there are now a record 2,546 children registered as homeless in Ireland and 1,239 families. These are the highest numbers ever recorded. This is a crisis of unprecedented scale for children in Ireland.
For children, being homeless has profound affects. It affects their mental and physical health. It affects their social and their emotional development. It affects their education. It also affects their key relationships.
Barnardos believes it is incumbent upon all of us to start focusing on the people behind these numbers – people who are living very real lives, in very difficult circumstances. They are in communities all over the country. We need to start understanding and imagining what these children and families are experiencing.
‘Her entire world was the space between those two beds’ – Barnardos Project Worker describing the life of a two year old living in a hotel.
If we do not act immediately and this continues at the current rate, within three years we could have almost 10,000 homeless children in Ireland. Imagine what that would look like. That is equivalent to 400 classrooms full of children. The bitter truth is that child homelessness is avoidable.
Barnardos believes the following measures must be undertaken immediately to address the current housing issues and prevent the housing crisis from escalating:
- The Government’s own commitment that by mid-2017 hotels will only be used in limited circumstances to house families is not likely to be met. Hotels are not places where children can thrive or develop. Efforts should now be redoubled to ensure these families should be moved as soon as is possible out of hotel accommodation and into more stable and appropriate accommodation.
- The transfer of families out of emergency accommodation should be done in a more coordinated way ensuring integrated transition into the community. This means, at a minimum, connecting families to local schools, health services, transport links etc.
- The Government should prioritise the construction of social housing. The Department’s shift to meet social housing needs through payments of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) or Rent Supplement (RS) instead of increasing social housing units is short-sighted and insufficient. There is an urgent need to build and repair its own stock of social housing across the country.
- Often HAP and RS payments fall well short of the price of rent in certain areas. This increases the likelihood of people becoming homeless as they are unable to afford to pay the full rent being sought. RS and HAP payments should be reviewed and adjusted on an ongoing basis to ensure they are in line with market rents. There should also be more discretion for those in receipt of payments to have their payments increased should circumstances require it.
- The Homeless HAP pilot should be rolled out across the country. There is a clear need for its extension and it has proved effective in the Dublin region.
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