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'The teachers hated me': High rate of school suspensions among homeless men revealed by new study

Failings in the school system increase the risk of homelessness, according to a new study.

A man walks past a homeless tent under a bridge in Dublin.
A man walks past a homeless tent under a bridge in Dublin.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

HOMELESS MEN ARE more likely to have faced suspension and exclusion from school, a new study from Dublin City University suggests. 

The research, a joint collaboration between DCU and the Peter McVerry Trust, asked asked 51 homeless men in Dublin, aged between 18 and 38, their experiences of primary and secondary education. 

Nearly 25% of men surveyed said that they’d been temporarily excluded from school, while over 12% had experienced multiple suspensions.

Over 18% had been permanently excluded or expelled.

Many participants told of negative experiences of secondary school, drawing a contrast between their enjoyment of primary school. Over 50% said their experience of secondary school had been fair or poor. 

“In primary, the teachers loved me. In secondary, the teachers hated me,” one man said. 

While the study is not necessarily representative of either Peter McVerry residents or homeless men in Dublin, it does suggest that many homeless men became alienated from education at a young age for a variety of reasons. 

For instance, 68% said they had experienced traumatic childhood events, while close to 50% experienced anxiety and depression. 

One man said that both of his parents were addicts. “I’m an addict since I was born,” he said. 

“That’s why I behaved like I did at school…Like it still affects me like my education  now…I still have difficulties. I’m 24 now and still having difficulties. Like I was told by a doctor that I will have lifelong difficulties with learning like the trauma I’m after going through…I can’t sit in a class without switching chairs every 5 minute,” he said. 

Another homeless man interviewed said that he had been “dealing with so much bigger things than coming into school every day, which is sort of sad but it’s the truth of it”.

Sarah Murphy from the DCU Institute of Education’s Educational Disadvantage Centre, who led the research, said that the report “reveals a range of preventable system failures in the Irish education system that are still ongoing today”. 

“These failures increase the risk of exclusion from the system and participation in society with knock-on impacts that heighten the risks of homelessness,” she said. 

CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle, stressed the “importance” of the research. 

“Given the early age and length of time people will engage with the education system, it presents the best opportunity to positively impact on life outcomes for people. That is particularly true for those who may be more vulnerable or likely to experience homelessness due to their life circumstances,” Doyle said. 

The report recommends more mental health funding from the Department of Education for young people to support counselling and therapy in schools, especially those coping with trauma. 

It also calls for the creation of “community lifelong learning centres” to meet the needs of young people who are vulnerable and at risk of homelessness. 

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