10,000 people recorded in official homeless figures is an unconscionably high level of homelessness in Ireland. However, this number represents just the tip of the iceberg in terms of housing instability and insecurity – all of which is brought about by our broken housing system.
The Simon Communities in Ireland support hundreds of people who are not counted in official figures for homelessness or emergency accommodation each day. They include those who have no other choice but to share with family and friends, those who are struggling to keep their heads above water each month in the face of unprecedented levels of rent increases, and those who are struggling to find a new home to rent when their landlord is selling up.
The increasing number of people entering emergency accommodation across the State in 2018 resulted in a budgetary allocation for homeless accommodation in 2019 of €146 million.1 Budget 2020 will require these allocations to be revised upwards to meet the needs of people who remain stuck in emergency accommodation and those who will become homeless. In particular, the Simon Communities in Ireland believe provisions must be made to ensure that there are sufficient child support workers for every child in emergency accommodation that requires one.
It is important to acknowledge the ongoing successful collaborations between NGOs, Local Authorities and Government Departments to support individuals and families to move on from homelessness, and in trying to prevent them from entering homelessness in the first instance. The Simon Communities’ central role in this work across the country is the source of our firm belief that if we can mend our broken housing system, we have the tools to end long-term homelessness.
To reach this goal, we will need to truly understand the scale of the challenge in front of us and provide the housing infrastructure that will see the important collaborative efforts outlined above working to prevent individuals and families from entering homelessness in the first instance. Then, where an individual or family experiences homelessness in a crisis situation, it will only be for a period of days, and move-on options with support where necessary will be available. This infrastructure will facilitate the exit from homelessness of the 10,000-plus people now in emergency accommodation.
The commercial housing sector is not delivering affordable and secure homes. We see this in the unsustainably high cost of renting and purchase of properties, and the slow pace of development of local authority housing. The ultimate consequence of this dysfunction is the continued increase in the number of people entering emergency accommodation and a growing issue of individuals and families becoming long-term homeless due to limited move-on options.
These related issues call for a broad understanding of the nature of homelessness and housing exclusion, feeding into the development of the supports that are needed to prevent homelessness in the first instance. We must then ensure that when we are unable to prevent it, that the experience of homelessness is as short-lived as possible, and at a minimum, families and individuals do not become entrenched. As we have stated above, this will not be possible until we provide the quality and quantity of secure affordable accommodation that is needed.