Traveller homelessness is a hidden crisis which is not reflected accurately in official State figures, and which is causing serious health concerns — including suicide, research has found.
A soon-to-be published report, Traveller Homelessness: Qualitative Research in County Offaly, finds that homelessness among Travellers is significantly underestimated and is heightened by “widespread discrimination and institutional racism.”
Research consultant Niamh Murphy, who carried out the study, said within county Offaly, 19.1% of homeless presentations to the council are Travellers, yet they account for only 1.3% of the population overall.
“This is an alarming figure, given the overall percentage of Travellers in the county,” Ms Murphy said, adding that it’s important to note that local authorities (LAs) will only have data on people who approach them for support. Ms Murphy said Travellers are easily excluded from the statutory definition of homelessness because of the nature of their lives, and also because of how LAs define homelessness. She said the interpretation of homelessness used in Offaly is “very narrow”, and the assessment of housing need is underestimating the issue of homelessness.
“Some were living on unofficial sites, some were living in extremely overcrowded accommodation, some were living in temporary accommodation, and some were recently housed by the local authority,” she said. Their day-to-day lives are very difficult. On unofficial sites there are no toilets, no refuse collection, there is nowhere to store food, so costs increase.”
Ms Murphy, who carried out the research on behalf of the Offaly Traveller Movement, said health issues are of great concern, including recurring kidney infections in children with no access to toilets, and mental health issues.
“The mental health and suicide issue blew me away,” said Ms Murphy.
“A lot of people spoke about how being a Traveller is so much more difficult than when they were young. There is a sense of giving up on being able to maintain a nomadic culture. People have no other option but to take a house, and that is very isolating for them.”
She said one family who had been experiencing homelessness for two years and moved into private rented accommodation.
“The deposit was paid, but when the landlord found out they were Travellers, he said he didn’t want them there,” she said.
“There can be different periods of homelessness for people throughout their lives…the lack of culturally appropriate accommodation is a big issue.”
The research will make a number of recommendations, one of which is that homeless family units be provided as a matter of urgency, as there is currently nowhere in the midlands region that can accommodate a homeless family or a man with children.
“The only homeless units available are for men only, women only, or women and children. The only emergency accommodation that families can utilise are B&Bs. However, the local authority have a limited budget for B&B accommodation and are only supposed to use it in exceptional circumstances for very short periods of time (around three nights),” the research notes.
The report will also recommend more joined-up thinking between the Homeless Action Plans and the Traveller Accommodation Programme.
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