child development and the homeless crisis in Ireland

Child Development at Risk Living in Emergency Homeless Accommodation:  Private Rental Market at the Root of the Crisis

As the homelessness crisis in Ireland continues to worsen, especially family homelessness, children are facing serious negative consequences. Staying in emergency homelessness accommodation for long periods of time is having a major negative impact on children’s natural development. Among the most disturbing impacts outlined in a new study is the fact that toddlers were failing to learn to crawl, walk and speak.

On Monday, 10th June 2019, a new study was published in the Royal Geographical Society’s academic peer-reviewed periodical, The Geographical Journal, which demonstrated the destructive impact of homelessness on children’s physical, developmental and mental wellbeing. ‘The hotelisation of the housing crisis: Experiences of family homelessness in Dublin hotels’ examines the experience of families who have fallen into homelessness in Ireland and have been relegated to living in hotels, B&Bs, and hostels – accommodation that is simply not fit for family life.

Sixteen formerly homeless families were interviewed for the study. All had been in hotel accommodation for significant periods, with one family having lived three years in a hotel. The families had been made homeless due to eviction from the private rental sector, family breakdown or both. Previous research has looked at experiences of homelessness, but this increasing intersection between homelessness and the hotel industry has been relatively under-researched, until now. The abstract for the article states the following:

“At a time of acute housing crisis, hotels are increasingly being deployed to give temporary shelter to homeless families in wealthy cities. This paper explores the socio‐political implications of the use of hotels for temporary accommodation, drawing on research conducted in Dublin. Specifically, we argue that the housing of homeless families in hotels exposes how they are made out of place in the city, even in the spaces allocated to house them. Hotels are spaces designed for the respite of others but, for homeless families, they conversely offer no relief and are even actively disruptive to their lives. The paper explores three ways in which hotels, presumed to provide restorative breaks from everyday routines, conversely act as points of rupture for homeless families. First, we consider how hotels are marketed as spaces where social reproductive work can be enjoyably put on hold. However, we argue that these perceived conveniences are experienced as disruptive for families forced to live in hotels for months, even years, at a time. Second, we explore the juxtaposition between the well‐being and health benefits hotels are designed to offer guests and the devastating physical and mental health implications for homeless families living in hotels. Third, we compare how hotel management and marketing emphasise the importance of customer service as integral to a hotel’s success, while simultaneously shaming and stigmatising homeless residents. The paper concludes by calling for greater attention to be paid to how hotels, normally considered sites of rest, become sites of rupture when used as temporary accommodation, exacerbating the stigmatisation and threats to well‐being that homeless families suffer.”

The study was produced on behalf of the Dublin City Council who continue to grapple with the homelessness crisis, as do local authorities across the country, especially in Cork, Limerick and Galway. In 2016, the Government produced its flagship housing programme to respond to the housing and homelessness crisis. However since the Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness was published in July 2016, the numbers of families in homelessness has increased not only in depth but in breadth as well.

Since 2014, the number of homeless families in Ireland has increased by 336 percent. Not only has there been an increase in the numbers of homeless families, but also an increase in the overall spread of families living in homelessness across the country; there has been a 218 percent increase in the number of homeless families outside Dublin between July 2016 and March 2019.

As with the families interviewed for the study on the hotelisation of the housing crisis, a new report by Focus Ireland has found that for the majority of families experiencing homelessness, eviction from private rental accommodation is the cause. The report, Family Homelessness in Dublin: Causes, Housing Histories, and Finding a Home, stated that the most commonly cited reason for this was landlords choosing to withdraw their property from the rental market. The majority of families surveyed had stable housing histories. Furthermore, a majority faced great difficulty in finding houses operating under the HAP scheme; with two-thirds attending more than twenty viewings. Clearly, the dynamics in the private rental market are at the root of this crisis and must be addressed.

It is important to understand that this is not simply something that happens – the current numbers, especially the number of families, experiencing homelessness represents something entirely unprecedented: this is a result of a failure of Government policy. For the first time we are talking about the impact of family homelessness on child development as if it is something to which must become accustomed: this is a failure of policy. The private rental market is not in a state of nature, it is a structured regulated part of the market-place – this is not something that has simply happened naturally or by chance: this is a failure of policy.

It is up to the government to fix the policy.