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.

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 every year. 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 2020.

In the 2016 Census comprehensive information was collected on the number of homeless people in the State. The results were published in Census of Population 2016 – Profile 5 Homeless Persons in Ireland.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive conducts a rough sleeper count in the Dublin region every 6 months.

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 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) 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

The Action Plan to Address Homelessness, published in December 2014, lists immediate actions to address rough sleeping in Dublin, as well as further actions to tackle systemic issues, grouped under prevention, accommodation and supports. As part of the Action Plan, an evaluation of the homelessness sector will be commissioned in 2015.

Further information

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.

Our document on housing and other supports for homeless people describes the available services and supports. Find out where to apply for these services. There are particular arrangements for young people who are homeless.

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

Read more on the website of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

Page edited: 5 November 2018