“And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Matthew 8:20, The Holy Bible

Homelessness

Homelessness. Photo Credit, Ksenija Archipova.

Homelessness is very popular. Google the keyword “homeless” and you will find over 260 Irish references over the past few years. A comparatively small country like Ireland with so much discussions being had. I decided to make a 261 article on homelessness, which I naively believed would differ among others.

The story of homelessness has many angles. While I was browsing through the sites with statistics and reports to get the actual numbers of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland to compare with other European countries, I came across a deadlock situation. The number of people experiencing homelessness is undefined. The methods of counting used are vague. The collected data across the countries provide statistics from as late as 2005, or even 2003 and 2001. To rely on these numbers would be a biggest mistake. I decided to speak with organizations and communities opposing homelessness to explore if they have experienced a greater number of homeless knocking at their doors.

Focus Ireland says, that “it is difficult to know the exact number of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland, due to its transient nature and hidden homelessness”. Focus Ireland estimates up to 5,000 people.

Beggars in Dublin

Homelessness. Photo Credit, Ksenija Archipova.

Dublin Simon community said that there is no definite figure for people who are homeless. “The Simon Communities worked with over 5,000 people in 2012, this was 24% increase and its continuing to rise” said Louise Lennon, policy and administration assistant from Simon Communities.

Dublin Region Homeless Executive suggest that there are about 5,000 homeless people in the State. Lisa Kelleher, head of communications and training at Dublin Region Homeless Executive, advised that the most recent assessment was counted on Tuesday, 8th of April, 2014. The data will be available in two weeks time.

The most recent statistics in Ireland are from the Census 2011. Of the 4,588,252 persons in Ireland on Census night, 3,808 were in accommodation providing shelter for homeless persons or were sleeping rough. These figures show that percentage of homeless population in Ireland is 0.08%. Taking into consideration that currently estimated number of homeless people in Ireland reached 5,000, we can assume that  percentage increased to 0.1%. Is not it possible for the state to end homelessness if the number of people experiencing homelessness does not even reach 1%?

Homelessness

Homelessness. Photo Credit, Ksenija Archipova.

The Government’s strategy on tackling homelessness sets a target for ending long-term homelessness by 2016. The first “A key to the Door” action plan for 2007 to 2010, and the following “The Way Home” plan for 2008 to 2013 targeted to end homelessness and the need to sleep rough. The targets were not met. The surprising fact is that, while there are more new strategies developed and documents published, we have a growing number of homeless people. The problem grows up the more aware of it we are. Why the number of homeless drastically increases while state’s economy is stabilising?

Nick Jones, communication and fundraiser officer from the Merchants Quay answered to the raised question: “I do not know honestly” – fair enough. Louise Lennon from the Dublin Simon Community provides more in depth answer: “in the current economic climate, homeless organisations are facing a lot of challenges”. Is not the Irish economy finally on the road to recovery?

While the rest of euro zone’s struggling, Ireland has demonstrated economic growth performance in 2013 and continues to improve this year. However, Simon Communities expect that the number for homeless will be much higher for 2014. Lennon states that “organisations like the Simon Communities have to do a lot more with less. We have had to put extra beds in our emergency accommodation but we continue to open and set up new services, some of which receive no Government funding”. Louise sees a root of the problem in rents continuing to increase far above rent caps in the private rental sector.

Lisa Kelleher echoes Lennon’s words on rent increase to a market value and explains the ins and outs of the overall problem. I put the suggestion to Lisa that homelessness is a complex issue and housing alone cannot be seen as the solution. Having a background in real estate and working in a letting agency, I have never come across that families would get notices to quit because of the rent arrears. Conversely, I had a case when landlord asked tenant to leave accommodation, but tenant refused. The dispute between landlord and tenant lasted for more than a year and Threshold was on the tenant’s side. This case was extremely complicated but if tenant starts disputes timely, then he will be fortunate. When I expressed my view on the rent arrears, Kelleher confirmed that the main problem with it is that tenants “are not contacting services on time”. She states that it is easier to sustain accommodation while tenants are in there. When you lost accommodation you start living in a cycle of homelessness, which sometimes seems impossible to break.

Finally, I have got the answer that has been ripe for challenging – 16 families losing their home every month  because of lack of awareness. They are knocking for help at communities’ doors when they are already homeless. The problem could be fixed, if they contact responsible organizations, when they still have a roof over their heads. “It is our key concern that families do all within their power to present for tenancy support as early as possible. It becomes much more difficult to make effective interventions when a person or family has left their rental accommodation or housing”, says Kelleher. Though, increasing awareness and educating vulnerable groups seems to me as a partial solution to the problem.

Homelessness is a complex issue. Turning up at homeless shelters, communities, churches and other places trying to understand some of its whys and wherefores certainly does not help – proximity to homelessness does not make one an expert. What communities say about homelessness may or may not be accurate. How would anyone know?

I approached organizations and communities opposing homelessness – what they said echo their reports and manuals. One of community officers said, that they are quite strict about everything going through their communications office. I assume that employees sign a non-disclosure agreement before committing their duties. Sure, there are some basic truths about homelessness that they talk about, that anyone can find by searching the internet. But these numbers and basic truth tell nothing about the experience of being homeless.

Homelessness

Homelessness. Photo Credit, Ksenija Archipova.