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Homelessness

Information

People in Ireland considered homeless may include those who are:

  • sleeping rough
  • staying in emergency hostels or refuges
  • staying in bed and breakfast accommodation on a temporary basis
  • staying temporarily with friends or family because they have nowhere else to go
  • staying in squats (occupying a building illegally).

Often the term ‘out-of-home’ is used to refer to people who have nowhere to live. This term recognises the fact that you may have a home that you cannot return to (for whatever reason) and that if you have no home currently that the situation is not permanent.

This document gives an introduction to homelessness in Ireland including information on homelessness and the law, the responsibilities of the State towards those who are homeless, reasons for homelessness and information about the national strategy on homelessness. The document also links to specific information on health services for homeless people, housing options for people without a home, and youth homelessness.

Rules

Homelessness and the law

The main legislation dealing with homelessness in Ireland includes the Health Act 1953, the Housing Act 1988 and the Child Care Act 1991. The Housing Act 1988 provided the first legal definition of homelessness in Ireland.

Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 states that a person should be considered to be homeless if:

  • "a) there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who normally resides with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of, or
  • b) he is living a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a), or
  • c) and he is, in the opinion of the authority, unable to provide accommodation from his own resources."

Homelessness can happen to anyone and affects people of all ages and backgrounds.

Duties of local authorities towards homeless people

While the 1988 Act does not impose a duty on housing authorities to provide housing to people who are homeless, it does clearly give responsibility to the local authorities to consider the needs of homeless people and expands their powers to respond to those needs. Specifically authorities may house homeless people from their own housing stock or through arrangement with a voluntary body. The Act also enables the local authority to provide a homeless person with money to source accommodation in the private sector.

In addition to the provisions relating to direct responses to people presenting as homeless, Section 10 of the 1988 Act enables local authorities to provide funding to voluntary bodies for the provision of emergency accommodation and long term housing for people who are homeless.

The 1988 Act requires that local authorities carry out periodic assessments of the number of people who are homeless in their administrative area, as part of their housing needs assessment. Visit the Housing section of the Department of the Environment for further information.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has responsibility for the health and in-house care needs of homeless people. In terms of funding, this means that local authorities are responsible for the costs of providing accommodation while the HSE Areas will provide funding for homeless persons' care and welfare needs, including in-house care.

Why do people become homeless?

There is rarely a simple explanation for someone becoming homeless. Homelessness results from a combination of factors. In the past, explanations of homelessness tended to concentrate on it as an individual problem due to personal difficulties. Now there is a much wider recognition of how societal factors such as social policy and social exclusion together with structural issues such as poverty, unemployment and housing shortages contribute to homelessness. In working to eliminate homelessness, it is important that both individual and structural factors are taken into account.

On an individual level, homelessness is frequently caused by a crisis in someone's life. These might include leaving the parental home following arguments, marital or relationship breakdown, the death of a partner, leaving care or prison, mental health problems, increased drug or alcohol misuse, a financial crisis or mounting debts and eviction.

Certain factors also create a greater risk of homelessness when a crisis occurs. Common background characteristics of people who become homeless have been identified as physical or sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence; a background of institutional care; offending behaviour and/or experience of prison; lack of social support network; debts; (especially rent and mortgage arrears); causing nuisance to neighbours (anti-social behaviour); drug or alcohol misuse; school exclusion and lack of qualifications; mental health problems and poor physical health.

National profile of homelessness

Homelessness is not confined to inner cities and urban streets, however, the majority of homeless people are located in cities. People in rural areas face the same difficulties as those in urban areas. The difference is that in rural areas they are often hidden. This is particularly the case in rural areas where people may not be as close to intervention services and may have no experience of dealing with agencies that collect statistics on homelessness. In addition homeless people tend to gravitate to cities since homeless support services tend to be located in city centres.

Strategy on homelessness

Following an independent review of the implementation of homeless strategies the Government produced a new strategy The Way Home - A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness 2008-2013 (pdf). This strategy was developed by a cross-departmental team on homelessness with input from the National Homeless Consultative Committee.

The strategy aims to:

  • prevent homelessness
  • eliminate the need to sleep rough
  • eliminate long-term homelessness
  • meet long-term housing needs
  • ensure effective services for homeless people
  • better co-ordinate funding arrangements

How to apply

Information on accommodation available to homeless people is available from your local authority and your HSE Local Health Office. (Ask to speak to a 'Housing Welfare Officer'). In Dublin, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is responsible for the co-ordination of services for homeless people.

Voluntary organisations such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, The Salvation Army and the Iveagh Trust may also be of assistance but this depends on your location in Ireland.

Page updated: 15 July 2011

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If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.