Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 March 2021
There is no inequality greater than homelessness and persistent housing insecurity. The United Nations (UN, 2017: 5) describes homelessness as:
… an egregious violation of human rights, threatening the health and life of the most marginalized…. Homelessness is the unacceptable result of States failing to implement the right to adequate housing. It requires urgent and immediate human rights responses by the international community and by all States.
Imagine the entire population of Irish towns such as Wicklow, Tramore or Ballina being uprooted overnight, along with their children, forced into homelessness. A national outrage and emergency action by government would surely swiftly follow. Yet homeless figures from November 2019 show that a population equivalent to one of these towns – 10,514 people, including 1,733 families and 3,826 children – are homeless and living in emergency hostels, hotels or Family Hubs, a type of emergency accommodation described in more detail later in the chapter. The number of homeless children has risen by a shocking 440% since 2014 (Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, 2019b).
Homelessness is a deeply traumatic event, especially for children, leaving emotional scars that may last a lifetime. At least 12,000 children have experienced the trauma of homelessness at some point in past five years in Ireland. Children are affected emotionally and developmentally from spending many months, and in even years, in emergency accommodation. They have been damaged, emotionally and developmentally, in a form of structural violence resulting from the housing crisis and government policy failure. The psychological stress and poor living conditions associated with homelessness has significant negative health effects, especially in mental health (Hearne and Murphy, 2017).
Homelessness has increased exponentially since 2013, when Ireland entered a period of economic recovery. The number of homeless families and children in emergency accommodation increased by a staggering 344% between 2014 and 2019 (Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, 2019b).
Figure 3.1 shows the scale in the increase of family homelessness from 2014 to 2019. This is a new phenomenon for Ireland. In 2013, in the Dublin region, between ten and 20 families per month presented as newly homeless. By 2014, this increased to an average of 32 families per month and by 2015 to 62 new families per month. By 2018, on average, between 80 and 120 families presented as homeless every month in Dublin (Focus Ireland, 2019).