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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 21 November, 2019
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"I don't want to be 40 living in a tent waking up with a bottle of vodka beside me"

Youth homelessness is a huge social and economic issue – what’s being done to stop it?

Natasha with Catriona Twomey at the Cork Penny Dinners.
Natasha with Catriona Twomey at the Cork Penny Dinners.
Image: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

TWO YEARS AGO, TheJournal.ie published an extensive study of homelessness in Ireland. Since then the issue has gained traction and is of huge national concern.

This week, we are examining homelessness beyond the capital. What is the situation around the whole of Ireland? And what is being done to improve it?

NATASHA SPENT MOST of her life in care, up until she was 18.

She lived in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, for most of her teens, so when she left care State she stayed there for a time.

She moved into the only place she could find in the town: a rundown apartment complex nicknamed “junkie’s paradise”.

Natasha, now 20, suffers from depression. One night she overdosed on tablets and as a result lost her home.

With nowhere else to turn, she moved to Cork to reconnect with her birth mother and her family.

She has been homeless now in Cork city since last January. For four months she slept rough in the grounds of a church near Kent train station.

Recently a friend has put her up, but the tenancy isn’t secure and she’s worried she could be on the streets again before long.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Natasha says that Cork City Council has been unable to help her in accessing long-term accommodation.

Regulations dictate that in most cases a person must able to prove they’ve lived in an area for a certain amount of time before a local authority will put them on the social housing list there.

They must be able to show that the place they are registering as homeless is that person’s “centre of interest” and that they did not just come to that place to access homeless or other services there.

A person must also be able to prove that they’ve lived 6 months (183 days) out of the last 12 in homeless emergency accommodation before they can qualify for rent supplement.

drinan street Drinan Street where the Homeless Persons Unit is located in Cork city. Source: Google Maps

“I’ve squatted, I’ve slept rough on the streets, I’ve broken into places to try get shelter. I won’t lie about it, it’s what you do to survive,” Natasha tells TheJournal.ie one rainy morning in Cork city.

She has aspirations of going back to college, of getting a job and raising a family, but right now she feels trapped and sees no end in sight.

“I want to have a family, I want to have a job that has a good income, I want to do all the normal things that are out there to do,” she says.

But I can’t. I feel stuck in the mud. For so long I’ve been trying to move forward and it’s like I literally can’t. I’m stuck in the mud.

Youth homelessness

Homelessness among young adults is an ever-growing problem across Ireland.

Latest figures from the Housing Department show that there were 733 adults between the ages of 18 and 24 accessing emergency homeless accommodation in Ireland in October.

The vast majority (510) of these adults are located in Dublin, where the numbers are highest and which offers the most services and facilities.

However, it is a growing problem elsewhere across the country also. The South West, South East and Mid West regions all have growing numbers of young homeless adults.

20161121_housing_young_adults The increase in young homeless adults in Ireland up to September of this year. Source: Statista

Most of these are living in the urban centres of each district: Cork city, Limerick city and Waterford. And there are services in place to help them.

In Cork city and Limerick, Focus Ireland operates a youth tenancy programme which is proving to be successful in helping people at risk.

The goal of the programme is twofold:

  1. To help young people out of homelessness; and
  2. To prevent them becoming homeless in the first place

“The idea behind that project is to ensure that people don’t end up in emergency homeless services,” says Ger Spillane, services manager for the south with Focus.

“Because my own experience in working in homeless services is that young people – if they don’t come in with an addiction – they certainly acquire one very quickly.

So part of the project is to avoid that because I’ve spent too many times going to coroners’ courts or coroners’ inquests for young people who that had happened to.

Young people are referred to Focus either through Cork City Council homeless services or Tusla, the child and family agency.

DSC_1018 Ger Spillane. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

They are then set up with an apartment or flat somewhere in the city and are provided with therapy and counselling support and assisted by trained workers.

The homes are spread out and integrated into the community, to help avoid “ghettoisation” or social exclusion.

Spillane says that the project has a strong success rate at preventing young people from becoming homeless after they leave care.

Since 2013, Focus says that its project has prevented approximately 100 young people from entering homelessness in Limerick and Cork city through the project.

Spillane says that the project’s success not only greatly improves the lives of young people facing homelessness, but is greatly beneficial from a social and economic standpoint for Ireland.

26/02/2016. DEMONSTRATION - The Irish Housing Netw A protest being held at emergency accommodation in Dublin earlier this year. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

“We’ve had young people in that project who’ve gone back to education and who’ve gone back to work – because stability was brought into their lives,” he says.

“You get a lot of people coming out against this kind of stuff, blaming people for their own addiction and questioning why they should get all this.

The bottom line is it’s costing us an absolute fortune to keep people in emergency accommodation.

The average cost for keeping someone in emergency accommodation for a year is about €29,000. Focus says that projects like youth housing are a better, more effective and efficient way to prevent and combat the issue.

Waterford 

While available services, age demographics and numbers of homeless people vary from county to county across Ireland, similar trends and patterns are emerging across the country.

In Waterford, there have been 66 emergency accommodation placements for young people since the beginning of the year. In 2015 around 145 young people (18-26) presented as homeless to the council in Waterford.

4953916950_b9d6a503a3_o Waterford. Source: Andrea @ Hotelsireland via Creative Commons

Lisa O’Brien is the project leader for the Focus Ireland youth aftercare and youth housing project in Waterford.

She points to similar issues as those affecting people in Cork and Limerick – namely lack of access to affordable rental accommodation, lack of suitable employment, lack of adequate social housing and supports.

Waterford is Ireland’s 15th most populous county but has the sixth highest number of homeless people staying in emergency accommodation, according to the latest figures.

According to O’Brien, this could be down to a number of reasons, including high youth unemployment as well as the issues which similarly apply to Cork and Limerick, above.

She says that to help tackle the issue, more focus needs to be put on preventing young people from becoming homeless, and on getting them out as quickly as possible if they do.

“It’s very easy and quick for young people to become institutionalised in things like emergency hostels if they have to access them on a regular basis,” she says.

“Their main focus there is on survival and not on self-fulfillment, or how they can do better.

They’re not thinking even about their future – they’re thinking about tomorrow.

“End of my tether” 

On a rainy day in Cork, Natasha is thinking about her future and what it might hold.

DSC_0984 Cork city in the rain. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

Christmas is less than a month away. She’s thinking about how she will be homeless for it, and not able to afford to buy presents for her younger siblings.

She’s thinking about her 21st birthday in May, and where she will be then.

She’s thinking about her family – many of whom are homeless – and whether she’s destined to end up like them.

“I’m only 20, I have my entire life to live,” she says.

I’ve my 21st coming up in May and I don’t want to be homeless for it.

She would like to go back to college and get a qualification to help her travel the world. She has aspirations for her life, but right now she feels lost in the system.

“I see other people on the streets and they’re happy with that, that’s the life they’ve adjusted to,” she says.

“I don’t want to hit that adjusting point and I’m going to end up doing god only knows what.”

When questioned about Natasha’s situation, Cork City Council said in a statement that it does not discuss individual cases for data protection reasons, but that each case has “complex and comprehensive” backgrounds.

Natasha feels like she is slipping through the cracks of the system, and is adamant she wants more from her life.

I know so many alcoholics in my life. I don’t want to be 40, living in a tent in this weather, waking up with a bottle of vodka beside me.

“I don’t want that.”

Our #Homeless Ireland 2016 series continues all of this week on TheJournal.ie.

Read: Woman at risk of being made homeless brings court action against Dublin City Council

Read: ‘It’s exploitation’: Homeless charities condemn ‘two-tier’ tenants laws

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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