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Significant increase in homeless children attending Temple Street hospital last year

Mary Lou McDonald has accused Leo Varadkar of ‘normalising child homelessness’.

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File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Sharomka

Updated Jan 22nd 2019, 3:07 PM

THERE HAS BEEN a 29% increase in the amount of discharges from Temple Street Children’s University Hospital’s emergency department of children with no fixed home addresses.

There were over 53,000 presentations of children aged 0 to 16 in the ED last year in total. 

2018′s figure of 842 discharges of homeless children compared to 651 discharges of homeless children in 2017, which represents a 29% increase. 

The exact number of homeless children who required treatment at Temple Street ED is not known. The total number of discharges – 842 – means children are counted for each admission, rather than individually.

The majority of those who had no fixed address (85%) had medical complaints including abdominal pain, high temperatures, chest infections, asthma, seizures and vomiting. 

23%  had trauma including hand and arm injuries, head lacerations, burns and self-harm. 

Temple Street has also reported that 26% of these presentations were children less than a year old. 

Latest figures released by the Department of Housing show that during the period recorded in November, there were 6,157 adults and 3,811 children homeless and living in state-funded emergency accommodation in Ireland. 

“We are seeing an ever increasing number of those children every month in our ED,” Temple Street’s lead emergency medicine consultant Dr Ike Okafor said. 

“In October to December 2018 alone, we saw 260 of these children. Their presentations are varied and complex but in the majority, they stem from the fact that these children are living in completely unsuitable, cramped and temporary accommodation,” Dr Okafor said. 

He said that, of the 842 presentations, he has looked after children with cystic fibrosis, neurological disorders, severe autism and children with significant developmental delays. 

He added that some homeless families who are given accommodation outside of Dublin are finding it difficult to afford to attend their children’s outpatient appointments.

‘Normalising homelessness’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald raised the issue during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today.

McDonald noted that the 842 figure relates to just one hospital, saying many other children are likely in same situation – dealing with health issues while living in “unsuitable, cramped, temporary accommodation”.

She then accused Varadkar of normalising such a scenario, stating:

You have normalised child homelessness and it seems you make no apology for it.

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Varadkar responded by saying “children are without doubt, the most valuable citizens in our country”.

He noted that the stress of having to bring a sick child to hospital is no doubt compounded by not having your own home. He said the government is committed to addressing this issue and is investing in social housing and family hubs.

He said family hubs are only a temporary solution, but preferable to hostel or hotel accommodation.

‘Shameful’ 

Speaking about the impact of homelessness on children and especially those who were seen in the ED during 2018, Temple Street’s head medical social worker Anne Marie Jones said that the situation is “shameful”. 

“When these children leave our ED, they stay in temporary accommodation with cramped conditions and no appropriate cooking, washing or play facilities. This results in accidents or traumas that wouldn’t normally happen if these families were housed in a family home,” Jones said. 

Children have the right to live in a home with security, peace and dignity. Children are not inactive onlookers but are deeply and often irrevocably affected by the impact of being homeless. 

“We need to show unrivalled support for these children and acknowledge that having a place they can call home is one most fundamental of human rights,” she said. 

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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