“We’ve been given notice to leave our property. We’d been renting for two years, the landlord is selling. We applied to over 70 properties but as of Friday, we are homeless. The council are placing us in emergency accommodation. I have four little girls (age 7,5,2,1) as well as my partner, and I don’t know where else we need to turn to try and find somewhere for us to have a home.”
Toni’s call to RTÉ’s Liveline last week provided another human story of how the housing crisis has spiralled out of control.
What have we become as a country when people feel they have no option but to ring a national call-in radio show to try find a home? It is heartbreaking listening to the impact that losing their home is having on her children.
Toni described how her seven-year-old is starting to get "really bad anxiety because of all of this".
"Her birthday is on the first of December. She said for her birthday she doesn’t want anything, she wants a house. She just wrote her list to Santa, saying that she just wants a house, a forever home for her family.
"My kids, as of Friday, are living out of backpacks. They’ve got their favourite teddies packed.
This is a traumatic experience for that girl, and her sisters. It is already causing anxiety, and research done on the impact of homelessness on children points to potential lifelong impacts. How do we accept children being traumatised in this way as a society, given that it is utterly avoidable?
These children and families are being made homeless, not because of something they have done, but because of the failure of successive Irish governments to provide social and affordable homes, and to give tenants protection from evictions. I’m deeply concerned that family and child homelessness is becoming normalised in Irish society.
It is important we listen to the human stories, like that of Toni and her family. Opening ourselves to the emotional impact of what is happening to these children, to actually feel the emotions it brings up in us - I cried, and felt I wanted to do something to help - is more likely to lead us to not accept this, to try to help, and to demand of Government that something must be done.
The sheer amount of children being made homeless in Ireland today is a case of State failure and the violation of the basic human rights of the Irish state’s most vulnerable citizens, its children.
When people think of homelessness, it is often of a person in a sleeping bag on the street. But most people homeless are in emergency accommodation – hostels, hotels, B&Bs, and Family Hubs. Nationally, 953 families with 2,189 children are in homeless emergency accommodation.
Many more families are losing their family homes and experiencing all the trauma that comes with it, but are supported to avoid emergency accommodation. In Dublin last year, a total of 1,544 families became homeless, with half entering emergency accommodation.
Government should be doing all it can to avoid children being exposed to any aspect of the loss of their family’s home. However, we do not count or track the total numbers of children nationally losing their homes.
Nor do we have official data on how many children have been made homeless in the last six months, one year or even six years. It’s an incredible indictment on our State that we do not even count the number of children made homeless.
In 2017, I wrote a report with my colleague, Professor Mary Murphy, on research we did with homeless families in Dublin. The report was read out to the then-Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar in the Dáil. It highlighted the severe impact of emergency accommodation on children.
“Instability can cause children to be consumed with worry and unable to focus on typical pursuits of childhood development.
"Adverse childhood experiences including homelessness are related to the development of risk factors for less well-being throughout life.”
There are currently 1,100 children in homeless accommodation in Dublin for longer than six months. Half of all children in emergency accommodation in Dublin are there longer than one year, and a quarter longer than two years.
I estimate at least 18,000 children have experienced the trauma of homelessness since 2016. This is a social issue that we will be dealing with the fallout from for decades to come.
Unfortunately, our 2017 report’s recommendations for a strategy to eliminate family homelessness, and for a statutory limit on the length of time families spent in emergency accommodation have not yet been implemented.
Lone parent households are also more likely to experience homelessness, accounting for 53% of all homeless families. Focus Ireland “have been concerned about the disproportionate levels of lone parent households experiencing homelessness since the start of the crisis”.
Louise Bayliss, their campaigns coordinator, highlights that while “the causes of this are complex, they can be tackled”.
Issues contributing to the risk of homelessness for families, and even more acutely for lone parents, include rents outstripping Housing Assistance Payment limits, poverty rates, childcare costs and poorly designed policy measures, relating to income assessment and maintenance.
But a major factor causing homelessness of families and children is the evictions in the private rental sector. Evictions have dramatically increased since the lifting of the Covid ban on evictions. The second quarter of this year saw the highest number of evictions registered since 2019.
We could see almost 2,500 households evicted in the private rental sector this year alone, with 60% of evictions due to landlords selling the property.
This is the tsunami of evictions. It is a tsunami of trauma for children and families in the rental sector.
Emergency action is needed including a reintroduction of the ban on evictions in the private rental sector for at least three years to give renters some stability and reduce the unacceptable levels of child and family homelessness.
- Dr Rory Hearne is Assistant Professor in Social Policy Department of Applied Social Studies at Maynooth University.