Hidden Homelessness – a growing problem which needs to be acknowledged and tackled
Leading NGOs in Ireland have called for urgent action to address hidden homelessness. Barnardos, Focus Ireland, Simon Communities in Ireland and Society of St Vincent de Paul 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 homelessness don’t qualify for many support services.
Fergus Finlay, Barnardos 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.”
Wayne Stanley, 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.”
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.”
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.”
The four NGOs 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. 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.
Notes to editors:
Read hidden homelessness stories and experiences
Read Barnardos Hidden Homelessness Report
Group Policy Recommendations
The following priority policy recommendations identified by Barnardos, Focus Ireland, Simon Communities in Ireland and Society of St Vincent de Paul, could provide real and lasting positive change for those experiencing hidden homelessness:
1. Help reduce the numbers 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.
2. Issue Departmental guidelines to all Local Authorities to direct that all households in receipt of HAP remain on the primary social housing waiting list.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 afterschool services and access to breakfast and lunch clubs.