Ireland’s ‘hidden homeless’ missing from record high

Homelessness in Ireland reached a new high this fall as the state’s latest numbers reveal that more than 11,000 people in Ireland were without a home in the last week of October. However the data did not include all individuals without a home – Ireland’s “hidden homeless.”

The data from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage found that 11,397 individuals were living in state-provided emergency accommodation in the last week of October. Despite being a record high, the figure does not capture the full scope of Ireland’s homelessness issue. Not included in the newly released figures are the country’s “hidden homeless,” who are homeless people who stay in places like cars, a friend’s couch or out in the elements. 

“So as a result, that number that I gave you of nearly 11,000 people who are homeless, if you factor in the hidden homeless, that number is a lot higher,” said Focus Ireland’s Conor Culkin, prior to the release of the latest data. 

The number of individuals who are “hidden homeless” is “very, very difficult to ascertain” and reliant on anecdotal evidence, said Culkin, the communications officer at Focus Ireland, a nonprofit organisation combating homelessness. There are likely more than 1,000 homeless people who fall into the category in addition to those in emergency accommodation, he told Babylon. 

One factor driving hidden homelessness is the lack of emergency accommodation available, Culkin said, which is so full in some parts of the country that people are being turned away.

Another form of hidden homelessness is overcrowding, said Wayne Stanley, the executive director and national spokesperson for Simon Communities of Ireland, a network of homeless charities. When families lose their private rentals they avoid homeless accommodation by staying with friends or family, Stanley said, but this can often lead to overcrowding. 

“The capacity of the family to continue in that overcrowded situation beyond kind of 12 months or 18 months or even two years is stretched and that’s why people end up having to present to homeless services because there’s no way out of those situations in the private rental market,” he told Babylon. 

Young and homeless

There’s been a 60% increase state-wide in young people using emergency accommodation this year, according to a September press release by the homeless charity Merchants Quay Ireland. Two hundred and seventy young people utilised Merchant Quay’s services in 2021, said Geoff Corcoran, the organisation’s head of operations and delivery. The organisation’s services include free meals, showers and resources for those suffering from drug addiction. 

Young adults in an unstable family situation, overcrowded rentals or who are moving from place to place with friends are especially vulnerable to homelessness, Corcoran said. Young people, 18 to 24 years-old are too young to outcompete other individuals for private rentals, he told Babylon. 

“They’re excluded from private renting, no landlord would rent to a 24 year-old or a couple of 18 year-olds above the other people who might be looking for private rentals,” Corcoran said. 

Part of the reason for the uptick in homeless young people is the lack of housing capacity of people in their social network, Stanley told Babylon. “When your social network starts to have families and children, there’s less capacity for them to take in somebody in those circumstances,” he said.

Risks to homeless young people include developing mental health issues, drug addiction and becoming involved in crime, Corcoran told Babylon, especially early on. 

Individuals in emergency accommodation have access to support workers, whereas Ireland’s “hidden homeless,” may not, Culkin told Babylon. And the stigma around homelessness may make the “hidden homeless” less likely to access the services that are available, he said. 

“It’s important to stress as well that a lot of people who are homeless, hidden homeless, there’s a stigma to being homeless and a lot of people might not want people to know that they are homeless,” Culkin said. 

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Rough sleepers

Some of the individuals not included in the state’s emergency accommodation numbers are rough sleepers, people sleeping in places like parks or in front of buildings. 

Merchants Quay Ireland has seen an increase in the number of rough sleepers this year. The charity provided support to 450 people who identified as rough sleepers in 2021, whereas there have already been 546 of such reports through three quarters of this year, Corcoran said. These figures include individuals who return multiple times for support. 

The homeless people Focus Ireland supports are from all “walks of life,” Culkin said, many of whom have fallen into poverty after a crisis in their lives. 

Individuals facing homelessness, whether “hidden” or accounted for, have a shared suffering, he told Babylon. “But the bottom line is whether it’s hidden homeless, whether it’s people in emergency accommodation, what they both have in common is that they are both suffering,” Culkin said.

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Jacob Owens

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