73% of Homeless Households in Emergency Accommodation in Dublin Have Been There for More Than Six Months

Two households in the county have been stuck in emergency homeless accommodation for 15 years, according to statistics released by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).

Meanwhile, 10 households have consistently lived in hostels for 10 years or more, the statistics also show.

Dublin City Council didn’t directly answer questions about why some people are stuck in emergency accommodation for so long.

Those who have been in emergency accommodation for a decade or longer are well past the threshold used by the DRHE to class people as long-term homeless.

That marker is more than six months, and covers the majority of those in emergency accommodation – 73 percent of households in July 2022.

The proportion seems to be growing,

A report by FEANTSA, a European federation of organisations that work with homelessness, says that 55 percent of homeless households in Dublin in 2014 had been homeless for more than six months and by mid-2016 that was 60 percent.

More needs to be done to move people on quickly, says Wayne Stanley, head of policy and communications with Simon Communities.

Becoming homeless is traumatic in itself, and not being able to get out of it compounds the trauma, he says.

Being homeless for more than six months can only have a damaging impact on mental and physical wellbeing, he says.

For those with underlying mental health issues, long-term homelessness exacerbates the problem, which also makes it harder to move on, says Stanley. “Extending and deepening that trauma in a very damaging spiral.”

Tracking Long-term Homelessness

A DRHE report to councillors issued in July 2022 said that 71 percent of single-person households, and 77 percent of families, have been in homeless accommodation for more than six months.

At that time, 685 homeless households had been in emergency accommodation consistently for more than two years, says the report, folding any people longer than that into a single group.

But some have been much longer than two years.

Seventy-one households have been living in homeless accommodation for more than five years, says a more detailed breakdown released by the DRHE following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

That amounts to about 1.6 percent of homeless households – but that is not the whole story.

“The records provided are based on administrative data not qualitative research,” says a spokesperson for the DRHE. “Therefore it is the case that the numbers of people experiencing long-term homelessness will be greater.”

Long-term homeless people may move in and out of homeless services, says Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland.

They may cycle from sofa surfing, to sleeping on the streets or in hospital. When counting the long-term homeless, it is important to include them, he says.

In 2021, Dublin Simon released a report saying that 42 percent of people who stayed in its hostels throughout 2020 had been homeless for more than five years.

A spokesperson for Dublin Simon said that research was conducted based on all of the 522 people who stayed in their six-month hostel placements in 2020.

“The difference is we quoted length of time homeless, not length of time in emergency accommodation,” says the spokesperson.

The Dublin City Council figures tracked the length of a person’s current stint in hostels and also don’t include some people in hostels classed as long-term homeless accommodation.

Why Do People Get Stuck?

While the figures released don’t show the full extent of the long-term homelessness in the city, they do demonstrate that some people have been stuck in homeless accommodation for a very long time.

A Dublin City Council spokesperson didn’t respond directly to a question about why the 10 households have been living in emergency accommodation continuously for 10 years or more.

“The reasons would be known to the local authority of assessment,” said the spokesperson.

The council spokesperson didn’t respond before publication to a follow-up query asking whether that response means that the council’s position is that those households should be housed by a different local authority.

Louisa Santoro, CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a homeless day centre, says that the statistics are not at all surprising to her.

Many of the people she works with get stuck in emergency accommodation because they are not entitled to be on the social housing list, she says.

That means that they also cannot access rent-subsidy schemes like HAP. Without that support, there is no pathway out of homelessness, she says. “The cost of housing is insane.”

Often they are not eligible for social housing because they cannot prove a local connection to Dublin, she says. The council’s website says that only households with a local connection can apply for social housing.

Santoro wonders how many people are currently homeless in Dublin but are not allowed to get on the social housing list, she says. “The local connection is going to be a major barrier.”

A Dublin City Council spokesperson said that the council doesn’t collate figures on how many homeless people are not on the housing list.

“There is no overall report for this information,” says the spokesperson. “At a point in time households may be at different stages of the application process.”

Some of them might have applied but not yet been accepted, they said, while others might be eligible but might not have applied yet.

On 23 September, a council spokesperson said: “In general a person who becomes homeless should apply to the local authority from which they became homeless.”

“If a Dublin Local Authority is contacted by an applicant with no local connection to Dublin, then it is usually more favourable to refer the applicant to the local authority where their housing need will be met,” they said.

Allen, of Focus Ireland, says that he doesn’t think many families would be among those who have been homeless for more than five years.

(The DRHE said it couldn’t break down the figures according to household type due to GDPR.)

Families with children in school in Dublin can use that to demonstrate a local connection, says Allen.

So while the local connection rule would delay them being housed it wouldn’t bar a family from housing indefinitely, he said.

Santoro says that for single people it does, because no matter how long they stay in homeless accommodation in Dublin, they are never deemed to have a local connection.

And for those single people that are on the housing list, they also aren’t getting offers of accommodation, she says.

In 2018 Dublin City Council said that it was scrapping a previous system of prioritising homeless people for social housing. “There is no homeless priority anymore,” says Santoro.

Allen says that the council has reversed its position on that when it comes to homeless families and he thinks that the council currently allocates around 40 percent of homes to homeless families.

“What has happened in Dublin is they have sort of quietly re-introduced it,” he says.

Allen suggests a number of other reasons why some families wait a lot longer for housing than others.

It could be because it is a large family and there is a shortage of four-bedroom properties or because they are holding out for a home in a specific area, he says.

The allocations are done according to time on the social housing list, not time in emergency accommodation, so a family that only joined the social housing list when they became homeless will wait a lot longer than one that was already on the list, he says.

In a small number of cases it could also be because the family has been banned from social housing for a time, due to rent arrears or estate management issues, he says.

What’s the Solution?

Stanley, the head of policy at Simon Communities, said that whatever the reason they got stuck, people who have been homeless long-term should be moved on into homes urgently.

“Everyone would agree that a wrap-around strategy should be in place to provide move-on options,” he says.

Assuming that most of those homeless for more than five years are single people, then the solution should be the Housing First programme, says Allen.

That is a programme specifically dedicated to supporting people who have been long-term homeless to move into housing.

So should all those 71 households who have continuously lived in emergency accommodation for five years or more be prioritised for Housing First?

“Housing First is for singles/couples only,” says the spokesperson for the DRHE. “In DCC any applicant who is over 5 years in EA [emergency accommodation] is considered for Housing First as well as general social housing.”

The Housing First programme aims to house around 120 long-term homeless each year in the Dublin region, according to a Department of Housing report issued last year.

But the DRHE report issued to councillors in July 2022 says that for each single-person household that leaves emergency accommodation for a tenancy, four more are entering.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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