Homelessness is not just an urban issue

Homelessness is not just an urban issue

Farmers think the lack of social housing does not concern them, but accommodation shortages and rent hikes are not confined to cities and towns, says Anne-Marie O’Reilly.

It is not surprising that half of the farmers in the Irish Examiner/ ICMSA opinion poll said the shortage of social housing was not relevant to them.

Homelessness and housing shortages have largely been confined to the major cities and, to a lesser degree, major towns. It has been years since the State invested in social housing in rural Ireland, beyond the major towns.

Social housing is not a public service for which farmers, or their families,are eligible. The residualisation of social housing, and the negative portrayals of it, only serve to further distance the farming community from its provision.

But the homelessness and the housing crises are starting to extend beyond cities and towns to rural Ireland, though not yet as prevalent there.

Homelessness increased 150% in the western region between March 2016 and March 2019, 137% in the north-east, and 124% in the south-west.

People who lose their home in rural Ireland must migrate to cities to avail of services and supports, further disguising homelessness in rural Ireland.

A poll about a rental or housing affordability crisis would likely have elicited more sympathetic responses from farmers, as these matters impact them more directly. For example, farmers have adult children who are struggling to pay rent or save for a mortgage deposit.

If the homelessness and housing crises continue, farmers in the future will answer this poll very differently. Already, in Threshold, the housing charity, more people in rural areas are facing high rent increases or receiving notices of termination (NoTs) and are unable to find a home they can reasonably afford.

In our survey of HAP eligible tenants, earlier this year, we found that affordability impacted people in rural as well as urban settings, albeit to a greater degree in the latter.

The case studies below show that many of the tenants in the countryside who seek our support are older single men, who are more vulnerable to poverty, social exclusion, and isolation.

This is not the full story, however. There can be a limited stock of housing available to rent in rural areas. When this is the case, people have to relocate to new areas, where they may not have the support of friends and family, or have access to a public transport network.

If a person living in rural Ireland loses their home and has to enter homelessness services, they are often placed in accommodation far from their community, family, schools, services, work, and supports.

Take the following examples:

* Mark is separated, with joint custody of his two young children and is working part-time. He lives in a small village in the west of Ireland, about 20 kilometres from the nearest town.

Mark received a valid NoT from his landlord and had no choice but to start looking for a new place to live. Fortunately, Mark found a new home and the new landlord agreed to accept HAP.

Mark didn’t have the funds for a deposit to secure the home. Neither the HAP office nor the CWO would, or could, assist with a deposit to bridge the gap and the new home fell through.

Mark will likely become homeless when his NoT runs out. This will impact on his ability to work, to see his children, and to find a new home.

* Seamus is retired, receiving a pension, and living on his own in rural Mayo. He lived in his rented home for nearly 10 years when he was illegally evicted. Seamus came to Threshold for help.

Homelessness is not just an urban issue

The landlord would not engage and refused to allow Seamus back into his home. Seamus had to go to the RTB to resolve the case. The RTB found in Seamus’s favour and ordered compensation to be paid by the landlord.

It was 10 months before the matter was resolved. All this time, Seamus has been staying with a friend, and will continue to do so until he can secure a new home.

* Sinead and Liam were illegally evicted from their home in a small seaside village in the west. They returned home to find the locks changed and their belongings removed.

Frightened, they sought our help. The landlady refused to engage and a dispute was lodged with the RTB. Sinead and Liam had to enter homelessness services.

The RTB found in the couple’s favour, agreeing that the eviction was illegal and ordered compensation of €20,000 to be paid. The experience took a severe toll on the couple.

* Peter and Rose, both working full-time, live in a small rural village with their two children, 20 kilometres from the nearest major town. They were shocked to receive a notice of termination for rent arrears, which they did not owe.

They had lived in the home for almost four years and all had previously gone well. We were able to determine that the notice was invalid and that no arrears existed.

Unfortunately, the landlord did not accept this and so the family had to lodge a dispute with the RTB. The RTB, too, found the notice to be invalid and so the family were able to remain in their home.

* Joe, a retired man with numerous health issues, was living for more than five years in his rental home in a village in the south of the country. Joe was paying his rent from his pension, but eventually started to fall behind.

His landlord refused to accept rent supplement, so Joe struggled on. He was issued a notice for the rent arrears and had to start looking for somewhere else to live, but there is little housing in his remote area.

He doesn’t have support of family or friends and was forced to sleep in his car.

Fortunately, his community reached out to him. Joe was eventually offered a home by the council and received our help in settling in.

* JJ is retired and for four years has rented a room in a quiet house on a country road.

JJ was getting ready to move into a more secure, long-term home, when there was a disagreement about the amount of rent owed.

The owner locked JJ out of the house, forcing him to stay with a friend. JJ at least knew that he would soon be moving into a secure home.

However, his previous landlord would not return his belongings, which included his medication. Intervention by Threshold finally resulted in the medication being returned and the disagreement was resolved.

* Siobhan and Mick are a young couple looking for work. To find somewhere they could afford to live, they moved to a rural location, 20kms from the nearest town.

This severely impacted their ability to find work and the couple struggled. The landlord then illegally evicted them. Siobhan and Mark had to travel to the nearest city to register as homeless and to seek emergency accommodation.

They are now residing in emergency accommodation as they fight the illegal eviction, try to find a new home, and secure jobs.

Ann-Marie O’Reilly is policy officer with the national housing charity, Threshold

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