Kitty Holland and Fiona Gartland, The Irish Times, 24th May, 2016
Homeless children are being accommodated on blow-up beds in adult hostels as the number of families in emergency accommodation has passed 1,000 for the first time. The latest Department of the Environment data shows there were 1,037 homeless families with 2,121 child dependants in the State in April. This represents a 90 per cent rise in homeless children, and a 105 per cent increase in the number of families, since April 2015. Charities working with those affected described the figures as shocking. In the past week in Dublin four families had to be accommodated, late at night and having exhausted all other possibilities, on blow-up beds in adult hostels. The chairwoman of the Housing Finance Agency, Dr Michelle Norris, will today tell a conference in Dublin that, to address the crisis, the State will have to seek permission from the EU to extend Government borrowing to finance social housing.
She will say some €1.3 billion is required over the next four years to fund a social housing programme of 13,500 units – 9,000 through local authorities and 4,500 via housing bodies. To fund this, the agency can borrow from markets and European lenders over 25 years at fixed interest rates of “2 per cent or less”. She will add that “there is no other affordable way of financing a building programme.”
The continuing increase in homeless numbers combined with the start of the tourism season, means hotel rooms are increasingly difficult to secure for families in need of accommodation. Focus Ireland, which works with homeless families, warned that the Government may have to “commandeer” hotel rooms or face the prospect of parents sleeping rough with their children. In one case in the last week, a mother and her two youngest children were taken into Cedar House, a facility for women with “support needs” including addiction issues, while the father and three older children were accommodated at Haven House, an adult male hostel, on blow-up beds. The previous night a mother and her two children were accommodated in the Cedar House staff room on blow-up beds. The mother’s sister and her children stayed at Haven House. On another night, a mother and her three children were accommodated in Cedar House, while elsewhere in the city, at George’s Hill, supported housing run by Focus Ireland, a family with nine children were taken into a designated room, known as a “place of safety”, on roll-out mattresses.
Place of safety
Mike Allen, Focus Ireland’s director of advocacy, said charities had last year designated a “place of safety”, to be used in “absolute emergencies” . “The fact that these options are being now used is gravely concerning. We are at real risk now, if there is not a radical response, of seeing families with children sleeping rough.” A Dublin Region Homeless Executive spokeswoman said: “The use of adult emergency accommodation for families only happens in extreme emergency situations, ie late at night and would be very rare.” Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said finding a solution to the crisis was a priority for the Government and he was not afraid to be radical. Dr Norris will tell today’s conference that the programme for government contains many proposals on housing, some of which are “very good, some are contradictory, but they are not costed and they are not prioritised”. Social housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness “has to be the top priority”.