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Important information or a 'distraction': Exactly how many people are living in homeless accommodation?

The debate around how many people are homeless in Ireland resurfaced again this week.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE DEBATE AROUND how many people are homeless in Ireland has resurfaced again in the Dail and online this week. 

The argument generally focuses on two aspects:

  1. How many people are without a home in Ireland 
  2. How many people are living in emergency homeless accommodation in the state

The question of how many people are homeless in Ireland is notoriously difficult to pin down for a variety of reasons. 

In the past, people have claimed that Ireland has more people homeless now than any time since the Famine; others – including Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy – have said that we have a low rate of homelessness internationally when compared with our peer countries.

Both of these claims are impossible to substantiate because of the inconsistent ways in which we collect homeless data; and the varying definitions of what it means to be homeless across different time periods and countries. 

But in relation to the number of people in emergency accommodation, it’s a bit easier to figure out. 

Emergency accommodation 

When media, politicians and commentators refer to the number of homeless people living in Ireland, they are usually referring to the number of people (adults and children) staying in State-funded emergency accommodation (hotels, hostels, etc) on a specific week every month.

These figures are released each month by the Housing Department.

Under Section 10 of the Housing Act (1988), the department provides various charities with the funding to house homeless people.

The numbers provided by the department, then, are all the people who are listed as staying in this state-funded accommodation (as well as in privately run hotels and B&Bs).

So, the latest figures available show that in the month of October there were 5,999 adults and 3,725 children homeless and in this accommodation. This gives a combined total of 9,724 people.

 Document

Not included in the above figure are a series of different people and groups who can be said to be homeless.

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin released a policy document this week in which he claimed that the number of homeless people living in homeless accommodation was significantly higher than previously reported.

Ó Broin argues that certain groups are left out of the monthly figures. These include:

  • Women and children living in domestic violence refuges 
  • People living in Direct Provision centres who have been granted leave to stay in Ireland but have nowhere to live 
  • People living in non-state funded emergency accommodation 
  • People removed in recent months from the monthly homeless figures 

Ó Broin enumerates the people in these groups and argues that a true count of the number of homeless people would include them all. He also includes in his count the number of people counted as sleeping rough on the streets in Dublin last month.

He ends up then with a figure then of 12,805 – which he states is a more accurate reflection of the number of homeless people.

“Not about the figures”

Ó Broin’s document is the latest in the back and forth between the government and the opposition (as well as housing experts and charities) to do with who should and should not be counted as homeless. 

This kicked off last March when it emerged that 600 people had been removed from the figures as the department said they were housed. This was in spite of the fact that they did not have tenancy arrangements and their accommodation was being funded through Section 10. 

Since then, a total of 1,606 people have been removed from the figures. The Housing Department insists that these families and individuals are in “own door” accommodation and should not be counted as homeless.

However, all of the leading NGOs, as well as council officials and some of Ireland’s leading experts on homelessness have said that as the accommodation that these families are in is being paid for through Section 10, they should be counted in the figures.

“This is not about figures. It is about the government’s ability to provide the services required to meet the true level of need,” Ó Broin said. 

Murphy himself has said that debates around how many people were homeless or not were distracting from the issue, and that what is really important was that the government worked towards helping those people out of homelessness. 

If that is the case, then arranging a meeting the data sub group of the Homeless Consultative Committee so that it can agree a methodology for who should be included in the homeless reports would be a way to move on from the issue.

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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