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What causes people to become homeless in Ireland?

How well do we understand the reasons?

homeless ireland logo

GROUPS IN IRELAND that deal with homelessness all agree – this is a simple question with many, varied, complicated answers.

Poverty, addiction, personal tragedy – the reasons people end up sleeping rough or in shelters throughout the country can seem like an impenetrable mess at times.

That’s why it’s tempting to boil down the problem to one, key cause: homeless people are irresponsible, it’s all about the economic crisis, and so on.

However, thanks to the decades of research done by Focus Ireland, the Simon Community, the St Vincent dePaul Society, and many others, there are some things we do know.

There are three basic types of cause:

1. Structural

  • Wide-scale economic and social problems, sometimes due to government policy
  • Not specific to an individual person
  • Examples: unemployment, economic crisis, lack of affordable and social housing

2. Institutional

  • Apply to individuals, but not directly related to their personality
  • Examples: Leaving foster care, being released from prison.

3. Personal

  • Traits, relationships and difficulties that are specific to an individual person
  • Examples: drug and alcohol problems, mental illness, sudden family break-up, continued abusive relationships.

shutterstock_158492999 Source: Homeless via Shutterstock

The key thing to remember about the causes of homelessness is that they are generally combined.

An example would be:

  • In an economic recession (structural), someone loses their job.
  • Then a marriage or relationship ends (personal), and they have to leave home.
  • Without a job, they can’t afford to rent an apartment.
  • If rent supplements have been cut, and there’s a scarcity of social housing (structural), that person can end up homeless.

On its own, the underlying problem is not enough cause a person to become homeless, but a sudden event combined with the underlying problem can trigger a crisis that leads to homelessness.

What are the biggest causes of homelessness in Ireland at the moment?

File Photo: Daft Report Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Naturally, housing is always a major factor in homelessness. But it’s in a particularly acute crisis at the moment, and the government has made it the centrepiece of its strategy on homelessness.

In its pre-budget submission, the Simon Community sums up the issue in no uncertain terms:

There are 89,872 households on the social housing waiting list, rents have increased by 8.9% nationally and the number of properties available to rent has declined sharply.
Furthermore, rent supplement levels are proving insufficient to meet the cost of many rental properties.
Cutbacks to funding for housing support, for health services, probation and welfare services, education and training services etc, all have knock-on effects that contribute to homelessness.

A Focus Ireland spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that the overwhelming recent pattern in Ireland has been towards structural, rather than personal causes.

The vast majority of the families who have become homeless over the last 18 months were previously living in the private rented sector.
The main ‘external’ reason families give for them becoming homeless is that they are unable to afford their rent…
One clear indicator of the balance between structural and social causes of homelessness is the proportion of families losing their homes that had no previously experience of homelessness.

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This graph quite starkly shows that in the space of just over 12 months, that proportion has jumped from 60 to 100%.

families Source: Focus Ireland

‘Many people have personal issues, but most have something to fall back on’

Despite the homeless charities’ emphasis on structural problems like housing, there is a tendency among Irish people to over-emphasise the role of personal characteristics and failures.

That is very often the assumption,” says Niamh Randall, Head of Policy and Communications at the Simon Community.

Many people have personal issues, but most have something to fall back on, whether that’s family, support networks, education, or their work history.

Individuals who don’t have those supports, however, can “fall through the cracks” when crisis hits.

Irish people show “massive empathy, compassion and support” towards the homeless, says Randall, but don’t always understand the causes of homelessness, which can be uncomfortable to confront.

People often haven’t been educated or made aware of all the complex, multi-faceted causes of homelessness.

We tend to blame homelessness on personal failures – addiction, laziness – because the alternative is troubling.

We would be forced to hold a mirror up to ourselves and our failings as a society.

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Catch up with all the rest of our Homeless Ireland series here>

About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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