Child Homelessness Increased by 55% in 2016
Invisible Victims of the Housing Crisis
Barnardos is appalled that child homelessness in Ireland is increasing at an unfathomable rate. It is outright shameful that rates of child homelessness have increased by 55% from December 2015 to December 2016, despite Government efforts to tackle the housing crisis.
‘Her entire world was the space between those two beds’
Project Worker describing the life of a two year old living in a hotel.
Barnardos CEO, Fergus Finlay said “Daily we see families across the country coping with homelessness, difficulties accessing private rented accommodation and unable to secure social housing. These challenges in the housing crisis are not abating. We know parents are struggling to cope with stress, uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy that is not of their own making or within their control to resolve. Their children are overwhelmed with how their lives have changed and they are fearful of what their future contains.
“Upon becoming homeless, imagine the trauma, fear and confusion felt by children. Imagine packing your bag and going with your family to present to the authorities as homeless. Imagine the worries you would have about when you would see your friends, or where you would sleep, or how you would get to school. Imagine not telling your friends where you live because you’re embarrassed and think you might be bullied. Imagine how much stress you would have to cope with. Imagine not being able to play. Imagine not having a place to do your homework. And imagine not knowing how to change it or when it will end. These are the real fears of children living in hotels, emergency accommodation units and in overcrowded situations.”
June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos said “For children, being homeless has profound affects. It affects every aspect of their development: mental and physical health, social and emotional development, their education, and their key relationships.
“The housing crisis is escalating at a ferocious pace, and until we have a response that is adaptive, swift and far reaching, we will struggle to keep pace and we will struggle to protect these children. Implementation of Rebuilding Ireland is critical but it too needs to be more responsive to the ever-increasing number of families at risk of and presenting as homeless.”
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.
Note to editors
The figures: In December 2015 there were a total of 1,616 children registered as homeless across Ireland. In December 2016, this had risen to 2,505 children . This is an increase of 55%. The figures also tell us that this same period saw a 28% rise in adult homelessness nationwide, meaning that child homelessness is increasing at double this rate.
Child’s 1st day of being homeless
I love mammy’s reaction to me reaching my ‘first’ something: my first words, my first steps, my first day at school. I loved her smile when I cycled for the first time. I was nervous at the start, but she ran alongside me and I was going really fast, and suddenly I realised that I was doing it on my own. My heart started pounding but I felt really brave. Everyone was cheering. That felt great.
But I didn’t like my first night at being homeless. I had to pack up some of my toys and put some clothes in a suitcase. I had to leave my bike with my cousin and go with my little sister and mammy to an office to say we needed somewhere to stay. The grown-ups there made us wait in a room for ages. I missed school that day. I kept crying because I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or if I’d go back home. Mammy was upset too and she wasn’t able to answer my questions. My little sister was just bored in her buggy. I just wanted to go back to my home and see my friends.
Then Mammy told us we would be staying in a hotel, I was excited because we had a holiday once before and we played on the beach and we all had fun. I couldn’t wait to watch TV and explore. We’ve been at the hotel for a long time now and have even had to move to different hotels. It doesn’t feel like we’re on holiday but Mammy says we can’t go home.
I don’t like living out of bags and I’d like to eat normal food again not take-aways but we’ve no kitchen so mammy can’t cook. My little sister is only small, she’s only 2 and she always wants to play with me but we can only play on the floor between the beds. I feel sad and she cries a lot.
I’m sick of sharing a bed with her. We can’t even play out in the hall. I haven’t told any of my school friends that I’m living in a hotel because they might tease me so I don’t bring any of them here.
Barnardos helps my mammy, and my little sister has joined their playschool. But I just want my Mammy to be happy, and to ride my bike again. And I want to find a home.
I had to move out of my house when Daisy was only 6 months old and Daniel was 7. The landlord’s house was being repossessed and we had no option but to leave. I was really surprised I couldn’t find anywhere else to rent. We’d been so happy there too and I had the new baby already settled. We had our routine during the day so it was a huge upheaval when we had to leave. I stayed with my boyfriend and his parents for a while but his sister already lives in that house with her two kids and we were sleeping in the sitting room so I couldn’t stay there for long. We couldn’t go to sleep until everyone else had gone to bed. That was really hard on Daniel who was always tired going to school the next day.
The first day I went down to register as homeless I was in a bit of shock. You think it couldn’t happen to you, but I just couldn’t find anywhere to rent and I was finding it very stressful living with my boyfriend’s family. There were just too many of us living in that house. Barnardos helped me register as being at risk of homeless, and I got HAP approval, but I still couldn’t get anywhere to rent. You still never think you’ll be down there saying that you’re homeless and looking for help. I felt scared and angry at what was happening. I had been a good tenant, why was this happening to me. My son was being very quiet and I knew he was sad, he had even helped me pack everything we needed.
We were lucky because we got housed in an emergency unit. But I spend every day very anxious. Daisy no longer has her routines and now she has to sleep in with me. But she wakes during the night and is crying, and I can’t seem to calm her. Some of the other residents have complained and I’m terrified they’ll tell us to leave, so I just keep rocking her. Last week Daniel got in trouble for kicking his ball against the wall outside during the day. I’m so terrified we’ll get in trouble here, but he was only playing. He needs to be able to play, he’s only a child and he’s just trying to make things as normal as possible here. The stress is making it very hard for me to cope. And my boyfriend’s not allowed to be here with us as he’s not a resident so I feel like I don’t even have that support. I dread the weekends as there is nowhere to go but I always leave here and end up walking the roads or going to a nearby park. At least during the week, Daniel is in school but poor Daisy has nothing. I can’t find a childcare place for her that’s close to Daniel’s school. I know I am letting her down as she is bored. Barnardos has helped me to play more with her and try to resume some kind of routine.
In my old flat, Daniel had his friends, and he was on a local football team. Daisy was doing so well. Now I’m constantly terrified. Life is so unstable and they’re both just caught in the middle of it. I don’t live any kind of life, I just exist. I’m worried about how this is affecting them. I think people forget when they hear the figures that there are tiny children living in the middle of all this anxiety and instability. I only want the best for them.
(Update: this particular person has now secured long term social housing, and is looking forward to the stability and security of her new home).
Overcrowded private accommodation
I had to move in here after my relationship broke down. It was advertised as a flat, but it’s a bedsit with only a single bed, a hotplate for cooking and a small ensuite. There is dampness on the walls so it’s impossible to keep the place warm. I feel so down most of the time, and spend most of my time in this small room. There’s five other tenants here but I don’t know them. I’m starting to feel like I’ll never get out. I feel so lonely and helpless. I feel like a prisoner and I haven’t committed a crime.
I have to share the bed with Molly. She’s nine now and I know this is all very hard on her. Imagine having to share a single bed with your mother when you’re nine, and having nowhere to play or do your homework except on the floor. She’s such a good child and she’s sensitive, so this is all very hard. I think she’s holding in just how hard she’s finding it. Like, I noticed she’s started avoiding her friends at school and when I asked her she says it’s because she doesn’t want to invite them round and see our room. She’s starting to fall behind at school now too and struggles getting her work in. I know she is worried about me and where we’ll end up. I feel like I’m letting her down but I just can’t afford to move to a bigger place that we could call home. I’m trying everything I can to get help for us but I know she’s losing out. She needs friends around her that’s why I contacted Barnardos. It’s been a lifeline as they’ve really helped her understand the situation and build up her self-confidence. They’ve helped link her in with a local afterschool club. It’s early days yet but I hope she returns to being a happy sociable child.
She’s only 9. She didn’t ask for this.