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Homelessness

Introduction

This document provides information on homelessness and the law, the duties of the State towards people who are homeless, reasons for homelessness and national policy on homelessness. You can also read our documents on housing options for people without a home and on youth homelessness.

Focus Ireland has published an information guidebook: Working to end homelessness.

Recent developments:

The Implementation Plan on the State's Response to Homelessness – May 2014 to December 2016 (pdf) was published in May 2014. Read more in this press release and in Strategy and policy below.

Homeless prevention campaign: The Dublin Region Homeless Executive launched a homeless prevention campaign on 17 June 2014 for people who are renting at present and are worried about losing their home. It aims to prevent such tenancies from breaking down. It focuses mainly on families on Rent Supplement in private rented accommodation.

Threshold’s Tenancy Sustainment Service is the main point of contact – see ‘Where to apply’ below. Under an agreed protocol, which applies to the Dublin region only, the Service can refer tenants to the Department of Social Protection for review of their Rent Supplement where appropriate.

Homelessness and the law

The main legislation dealing with homelessness includes the Health Act 1953, the Housing Act 1988 and the Child Care Act 1991.

Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988 states that you are considered homeless if:

  • There is no accommodation available that, in the opinion of the local authority, you and any other person who normally lives with you or who might reasonably be expected to live with you, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of, or
  • You are living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and you are living there because you have no suitable accommodation or
  • You are, in the opinion of the local authority, unable to provide accommodation from your own resources

In general, you may be considered homeless if you are:

  • Sleeping rough
  • Staying in an emergency hostel or refuge
  • Staying in bed and breakfast or hotel accommodation on a temporary basis
  • Staying temporarily with friends or family because you have nowhere else to go
  • Squatting (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).

Duties of the State towards homeless people

At present, there is no explicit right to housing in the Constitution or in Irish law. The Constitutional Convention recommended in February 2014 that the Constitution should be amended to include economic, social and cultural rights, including a specific right to housing, but no decision has yet been made on this recommendation.

While local authorities do not have a statutory obligation to house people, they do have general responsibility under the Housing Act 1988 for the provision of housing for adults who cannot afford to provide it for themselves. They may help with accommodation either by providing housing directly or through arrangements with voluntary housing organisations and other voluntary bodies. They may also provide funding to voluntary bodies for emergency accommodation and for long-term housing for homeless people.

The Act also 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 – see National profile of homelessness below.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has general 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 provides funding for the care and welfare needs of homeless people, including in-house care.

The Child and Family Agency (Tusla) has responsibility under the Child Care Act 1991 for providing accommodation for people under the age of 18 who are homeless or in need of care. It may also provide aftercare facilities for young people aged over 18. Read more in our document on youth homelessness.

Why do people become homeless?

The reasons for people becoming homeless are both complex and wide-ranging but there is a particular risk at present for families with tenancies in the private rented sector.

According to Ending Homelessness – A Housing-Led Approach (pdf), research shows that the following are the main factors that lead to homelessness:

  • Housing and financial crises
  • Discharge from institutions
  • Family breakdown, including domestic violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health issues
  • The transition from youth to adulthood for young people in care or who were homeless as young people

Many people are homeless for relatively short periods, for reasons linked to issues such as loss of employment, eviction or relationship breakdown. Others who experience multiple forms of social exclusion may become homeless in the long term, especially if they have been homeless before they become adults.

National profile of homelessness

There are several different methods of counting the number of homeless people. While it is difficult to provide an accurate figure, it is clear that very many people are either homeless or at risk of losing their homes. Homelessness is generally concentrated in urban areas and the majority of homeless people are in Dublin.

The Housing Act 1988 requires local authorities to carry out assessments of housing need. The homeless people who are included in this assessment are those who are registered with the local authority and have been assessed as being in need of housing. The most recent housing need assessment was carried out in 2011.

Census 2011 was the first time that comprehensive information was collected on the number of homeless people in the State. Homeless people were counted on the basis of where they were on Census night and the count was undertaken with the help of the homelessness services. The results were published in Homeless Persons in Ireland; A special Census report.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive conducts a rough sleeper count in the Dublin region every 6 months. The most recent count was taken in November 2013.

Details and results of other mechanisms for counting homeless people are outlined in Relate, April 2014 (pdf).

Strategy and policy

The Way Home – A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness 2008-2013 (pdf), which was published in 2008, set out the aim of ending homelessness by 2016. A national implementation plan (pdf) was published in 2009 and the Programme for Government (2011) included a commitment to ending homelessness and the need to sleep rough by implementing a housing-led approach.

In February 2013, the Government issued a Homelessness Policy Statement (pdf). The overall strategy and aims of The Way Home continue to be Government policy but with the explicit recognition of the housing-led approach, which means that long-term secure housing, with social supports if necessary, is seen as the best outcome for homeless people.

The 2013 policy statement restated the aim of ending homelessness by 2016 and set the following objectives:

  • Preventing homelessness
  • Eliminating the need to sleep rough
  • Eliminating long-term occupation of emergency accommodation
  • Providing long-term housing solutions
  • Ensuring effective services
  • Better co-ordinated funding arrangements

The 2013 policy statement provided for the setting up of the Homelessness Oversight Group, which published its first report (pdf) in December 2013. The Group’s recommendations included the maintenance of funding at 2013 levels for the years 2014 to 2016 and the establishment of a Homelessness Policy Implementation Team.

The Implementation Plan on the State's Response to Homelessness – May 2014 to December 2016 (pdf) was published in May 2014. The plan prioritises the following:

  • Accommodating rough sleepers and therefore eliminating the need to sleep rough
  • Managing the escalating number of homeless families in the Dublin region
  • Management and use of vacant properties
  • The practical application of local authority housing allocations and
  • The timely and appropriate utilisation of NAMA units

Read more about the plan in this press release.

There is further detailed information on homelessness strategy and policy, including Homelessness Action Plans; homelessness consultative forums and the Youth Homelessness Strategy, in the April 2014 edition of Relate (pdf). There is also extensive information on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Where to apply

Information on accommodation available to homeless people is available from your local authority and your 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. In Cork, the Cork City Homeless Forum has produced a guide to homeless emergency services for adults.

Threshold's Access Housing Unit works as a specialised accommodation agency to help homeless people living in temporary or emergency accommodation to find and sustain private rented housing.

The following voluntary organisations are also active in the area of homelessness:

Simon Communities in Ireland: simon.ie

Focus Ireland: focusireland.ie

Crosscare: crosscare.ie

St Vincent de Paul: svp.ie

De Paul Trust: depaulireland.org

Salvation Army: salvationarmy.ie

Peter McVerry Trust: pmvtrust.ie

Novas: novas.ie

Sophia: sophia.ie

Cope: copegalway.ie

Sonas: sonashousing.ie

Cuan-Teach Mhuire: cuanmhuire.ie

Sisters of Charity: religioussistersofcharity.ie

Tenancy Sustainment Service

Opening Hours:Monday to Friday, 9.30 am to 5 pm
Locall:1800 454 454
Homepage: http://www.threshold.ie

Page updated: 18 June 2014

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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.