Who are Ireland's Homeless?
The people and the numbers behind our homelessness crisis.
Ireland is facing the most severe homelessness crisis in recent memory. This is a fact. As of October 2017, there are 8,692 homeless people (3,194 of these are children) living in this country. This is a 24% increase on the number in October 2016, one year previous. It is two and a half times as many as there were in October 2014, when there were 3,378 people without a home in Ireland. This country can’t provide adequate homes for the people who need them.
In a previous piece in these pages, we dissected the reasons why it’s so difficult for a young person to move out in Dublin. We established the major cause of the our through-the-roof rent is a lack of housing. This has serious consequences, like the lack of personal freedom that frustrates so many of the young adults in the city. It’s a pain having to come home to your parent’s house after a night out, or cleaning up the kip after a week-long free gaff. However, there are people out there who feel the pain of this housing crisis more than anyone else.
The homelessness epidemic is the razor’s edge of our housing crisis; the most significant issue our society has faced in years. 8,692 homeless people! These facts raise deep and challenging questions about what we stand for as a society and a country. Do we help those in need? Or do we leave them to fend for themselves? To find our way out of this mess, and begin to find answers, it's vital to first understand the problem.
Let's clear up a common misconception. Most of the people in the figures quoted above are not sleeping rough. Most of them are staying in emergency homeless accommodation like hostels, B&Bs or hotels, where they've been placed by the State. They have a roof over their head but they don't have a home. Life is hard for these people- families living in one room, no cooking facilities, nowhere for the children to play. No way this can be called a home.
But for people sleeping rough, life is even worse. As of 7th November 2017, there were 184 people sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin, with an estimated 20 more individuals on the streets outside of Dublin. For these people, life is a daily battle for food, shelter and warmth. Vulnerable and unsupported, as a society we should be doing everything in our power to help them. However, when we chat about the homelessness crisis and we refer to homeless people, we are not talking about thousands of people in sleeping bags and tents.
This is not to say we don’t have a problem with people sleeping rough. Two men died on the streets of Dublin very recently. It's heartbreaking to think of those left to suffer outside in the freezing cold winter. They feel the most pain in our society and we should be working overtime to find a roof for everyone to sleep under. However, it does tell us that the majority of our homelessness problem is not what you might expect. We are talking about 1,463 families trying to live a decent life in state-funded emergency accommodation, like hostels, B&Bs and hotels. Imagine the 3,194 children, living their childhood in a poxy hotel lobby, or the 826 homeless people aged 18-24, wondering what they did to deserve this life.
Clearly, the nature of homelessness has changed. Until a few years ago, most homeless people were single blokes, struggling to find stability in the world. Many suffered from mental health problems or addiction issues. Recently though, entire families with young children have become homeless. What did these families do to deserve such a dreadful fate? They simply could not afford the overpriced rent (which is at its most expensive in 10 years). The families were promptly evicted from their homes. They were then placed in hotels or hostels by their local councils until they can find a new place to live. In a cutthroat housing market, with fierce competition and ridiculously expensive rent, this can take a very long time.
So, who are Ireland’s homeless? They are the families left in limbo, to live their lives in a bleak and dreary hotel room. A hotel is no place to raise a child, to build a family, or to make a home. Our government and our society have failed them. These people deserve a proper existence. Endless promises from ministers have been broken, but there is hope. We are not facing an epidemic without a cure.
If we had 8000 people sleeping rough, then we’d truly be looking disaster in the face. The solutions to mental health and addiction problems are deeply complicated, and take time and individual care to solve. Luckily, moving families from hotels to houses isn’t so difficult. Just build the fucking houses. Obviously, there are serious challenges (cash-money being the most significant) to building the 25,000 houses we need each year, but in simple terms, it’s the solution.
The government has failed in its promises to build the required number of houses in the past few years. We are improving, but progress is infuriatingly slow. With these words, we are trying to explain the nature of the problem, so we can all understand the issues we face as a society and find a way to better ourselves. As individual members of this community, we can all do our bit.
Talking about the problem is half the battle. Share this post, spread the message. Furthermore, you could call up or email your TD and let them know you care, that homelessness matters, and they will only be getting your vote if they do something about it. You can also fundraise for the homeless through organisations such as Focus Ireland or the Dublin Simon Community. They do great work providing support and resources for the people who need them the most. There is hope, but if we want change, we have to fight for it.
Photos courtesy of Jack Farrell
Statistics courtesy of Department of Housing and Planning