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Pandemic’s Impact on Homelessness in Ireland 2020

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

Due to the fast-approaching pandemic, from late March 2020 the Government implemented actions to decrease the risk of homelessness. Such included a rent freeze and a temporary ban on evictions “from rental tenancies on all grounds between the end of March and the 31st July 2020.”

The Department of Housing publishes monthly homelessness reports on the number of homeless relying on emergency accommodation. Reports present figures collected over a one-week period each month. Not included in those statistics are people “living in squats or ‘sofa surfing’ with friends,” people in domestic violence refuges and rough sleepers

Simultaneously to the implementation of the stay-at-home order at the end of March, a figure of 9,907 individuals in emergency accommodation was recorded. Of these, 4,027 were adult men, 2,525 were adult women and 3,355 were children. Over the following months the figure gradually declined by 12% and reached 8,699 in June – the lowest figure since 2017, according to Focus Ireland. This significant drop was mainly due to fewer homeless families in emergency accommodation which fell by 22% between March and June. 

Since 2014, when homelessness data was first published, the second quarter (Q2) of 2020 (April-June) was the first in which the number of people exiting homelessness exceeded the number of people becoming homeless. According to Focus Ireland, this decline in the number of households entering homelessness was most likely the result of the temporary eviction ban. 

The number of individuals presenting as homeless each day fell from on average 15 people in Q1 to 9.8 in Q2 of 2020. On the contrary, in Q2, 11.7 people exited emergency accommodation each day which indicates only a slight increase from Q1 as well as the Q2 2019 figure. In 2020, exits to housing reached a new high in Dublin comprising 679 in Q2. Also, on a national scale exits to housing greatly exceeded 2019 figures, recording just under 2,100 people in Q2. 

“We have kept people safe during Covid-19 and worked with our State partners and supporters to help over 2,000 people in 760 households to secure a place to call home since the start of this terrible pandemic in March,”

States Focus Ireland CEO Pat Dennigan.

The increased number of exits during this period appears to be accounted for by increased exits to social housing as well as to the private rental sector, via Housing Assistance Payment. According to Focus Ireland, “policies which preferentially allocate social housing to homeless households are one of the most effective measures, particularly for the long-term homeless.”

Photo by PhotoMIX Company from Pexels.

Following the end of the rent freeze and the eviction ban as such by August, those were replaced by new rental laws. Under these, only renters who are financially impacted by Covid-19 and meet the requirements of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies Act 2020, remain protected from possible rent increases until 13 April 2021.

On 24th October 2020, the Government introduced the Residential Tenancies Act 2020 ensuring that tenants are not required to vacate their rental properties during an “emergency period”, except in limited circumstances relating to specific breaches of tenant obligations.

This eviction ban will remain in place until at least April 2021, however, the broader eviction ban on all grounds ends as soon as the 5km travel restrictions under level 5 are lifted. Focus Ireland considers protection for renters “limited and confusing” since “a person in arrears can still be evicted into homelessness on other grounds such as if the landlord is selling the property or if a family member moves in.” Research has shown that most people becoming homeless in Ireland had their last stable home in the rental sector and lost their homes in such circumstances. 

Following this change in protection measures, the rate at which homelessness had decreased before slowed down as lockdown restrictions were lifted. Therefore, the figures slightly increased by further 29 people in emergency accommodation in July. However, these figures are still 15% lower than this time last year. 

The number of people relying on emergency accommodation declined further before increasing one more time in October to 8.737. Although the number of homeless children increased by 59 people, the figure fell by 30%, from 3,826 in October last year to 2,642 in 2020.

Most recent figures on homelessness available for November 2020 reached a new low at 8,484 including 3,925 males, 2107 females and 2452 children. In contrast to November 2019, the number of people relying on emergency accommodation has declined by 23%. While the number of families (-83) and children (-190) accessing emergency accommodation has reduced from October to November 2020, the number of singlue adults has increased (+41).

The infographic below sums up the most important changes in the number of homeless in emergency accommodation throughout 2020.

Infographic by Rubina Freiberg.
Sources: Department of Health/Focus Ireland.

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