Income, poverty and affordable housing at the root of homelessness

Family homelessness has risen 200% since 2011 and 55% of homeless people are in the labour force. Key to this is the need for adequate incomes, local authority housing and an affordable, secure private rental market, writes Niamh Randall.

Mother of two Cheryl Barnewell and her two children Clayton (9) and Rocco (2) who have been forced to sleep in their car, pictured in Finglas.

Every month we hear new statistics for the number of people who are living in emergency accommodation and every month they increase to quite shocking levels.

Yesterday, the CSO published ‘Census 2016 Profile 5: Homeless Persons in Ireland’ giving us a sense of the real people behind the statistics. It told us of the very damaging impact of austerity and the recession and clearly demonstrates that structural inequality and poverty are at the root of homelessness.

It also shows us that people who are homeless are not one homogenous group. They represent a wide range of experiences and a broad spectrum of people; single people, families with children, women, young people and drug/alcohol users who are homeless. All struggling with uncertainty, all suffering the indignity of the system and all of whom deserve so much better.

For this reason, the Simon Communities are calling for a new cross departmental national homelessness sub-strategy, under Rebuilding Ireland, with ring-fenced funding for implementation. Rebuilding Ireland is moving far too slowly. This sub-strategy would build upon existing commitments contained in Rebuilding Ireland including prevention; addressing multiple and complex needs; and nationwide implementation of Housing First, that is moving people immediately into long-term housing and providing whatever support is needed.

The CSO report shows the failures to protect people at risk and provide adequate safety nets. There are increases in the number of young people and women becoming homeless.

Twenty-seven percent of people counted as homeless on census night are under 18 years of age.

Nobody should have to experience homelessness but it is particularly poignant to experience it as a child or young person. We know that people who experience homelessness and housing instability as children and young people are more likely to become homeless again as adults.

Forty-two percent of people who are homeless are now women. Family homelessness has increased by more than 200% and the number of one parent families experiencing homelessness has increased by 206% since 2011. More than 55% of people who are homeless are in the labour force suggesting that there are thousands of workers who cannot afford to buy or rent a home of their own.

Furthermore, people who are homeless are less likely to have higher education qualifications; we must ensure people have the opportunities to access the education, training and employment that they need to earn an adequate income to live independently.

This is a story of income inadequacy, poverty and lack of affordable housing; the root causes of our homelessness crisis. The abject failure of safety nets that should prevent people from becoming homeless is clear. People who are homeless report they are less healthy than they were before; the longer people remain in homelessness the greater the trauma and impact on their well-being. The current ideology underpinning the housing system is one of over reliance on the private market for the delivery of housing for all tenure types, which has resulted in housing becoming little more than a commodity.

We know that increased private sector supply will not deliver affordability or the required housing and tenure mix in the short to medium term to tackle the homeless crisis. The sustainable long- term solution to ending the current crisis is to build more social and affordable housing. Without sufficient supply of social housing, the private rented sector is not capable of delivering the housing needed to respond to the homeless crisis given the sheer scale. The Government must address spiralling rents and the absence of sufficient security of tenure further.

These persistent issues are preventing people from finding and sustaining affordable homes within the rental market. The focus must be on preventing people from losing the homes they already have, making sure people and families do not remain trapped in emergency accommodation long term. At the crux of this is the need for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the local authorities to build social housing at the level and pace that is required.

The review of Rebuilding Ireland underway must critically assess implementation to date, exploring both progress made and, crucially, targets not reached since the publication of the plan in July 2016.

Importantly, this review also provides an opportunity to reaffirm the State’s long-term vision for the delivery of affordable housing across all tenure types within sustainable communities nationwide.

The time to act is now; people experiencing homelessness and housing instability have been waiting far too long.

  • Niamh Randall is the national spokesperson for the Simon Communities.

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