A homeless family of seven who sued for “family appropriate” accommodation after living in hotels for 18 months will be housed within two months, the High Court has been told, writes Ann O'Loughlin.
As a result the case was adjourned at the High Court today. The case raised significant issues about the extent of duties of local authorities and the State to homeless people in acute housing need.
The unemployed couple and five children aged up to seven years , including a baby born last year into homelessness, have been in ten temporary accommodations in four years and in their current hotel since February.
Their case opened yesterday morning but Mr Justice Seamus Noonan was later told, after South Dublin County Council said housing accommodation will be made available to them within two months, the sides had agreed to adjourn it to September.
If the adjournment signalled a measure of agreement, he was “delighted”, the judge said. “On a human level, one can only have great sympathy for this unfortunate family.”
In their action, the family, represented by Cormac O Dulachain SC, claimed the hotel was not an “adequate home” and failed to meet the Council’s responsibilities under the Housing Acts.
While the Council had offered them up to €1,950 monthly towards rent payments under the HAP (Housing Assistance Payments) scheme, they were unable to get either private rented or social housing accommodation, the court heard.
If the court found the Council has met its statutory responsibility, they argue the court should find the Minister for Housing has failed to vindicate their rights, particularly the children’s, under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights Act.
It was alleged the Minister has failed to ensure families in acute housing need are not forced to live long-term in conditions “wholly incompatible with the normal enjoyment of family life” and has not adequately considered the children’s educational, social, emotional, psychological and physical development needs.
The Minister has an “overarching” responsibility to address the homeless situation and ensure adequate provision is made for the family in “family appropriate” accommodation, Mr O Dulachain argued. The statutory provisions requiring the Council to provide “accommodation” contain no reference to the quality or condition of that accommodation, he also said.
The court heard the family were allocated two hotel bedrooms but, because the rooms were not adjoining and the youth of the children, they effectively lived in one room since February.
The case was initiated last May and Mr Justice Noonan directed a speedy hearing because of evidence the family’s health and welfare is compromised and the significant issues raised.
After the judge queried whether the court could make orders directing the Minister to allocate more resources to the problem, Mr O Dulachain said the courts have previously directed ministers to ensure more resources are provided to address particular situations.
An independent social worker consultant who assessed the family said their living conditions in a small stuffy hotel room would “almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the children’s development and the parents' ability to provide a stable family environment”.
The children's health problems included asthma and various infections, some exhibited behavioural issues, the oldest had missed school due to frequent moves and distance from their school, and the parents suffer stress-related illness. Because they are not allowed cook, they eat a lot of fast food and there was also no space or nearby park for the children to play.
The parents, both from the South Dublin County Council area, have three children together. The two oldest are the mother’s. They were designated homeless in early 2016 and are on the Council's housing list.
They were evicted from other hotel accommodation at an hour’s notice three days before Christmas last, days after the youngest was born. The Council alleged they were subject of "multiple warnings" regarding their behaviour but they claimed they got no opportunity to address the complaints before the Council acted.