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What is Homelessness?
The Housing Act 1988 defines a homeless person as somebody who has no reasonable accommodation to live in or lives in a hospital, institution or night shelter because of a lack of home. Different types of homelessness include visible homelessness - on the streets, sleeping rough, in shelters; hidden homelessness - in temporary, insecure, low quality or overcrowded housing with relatives or friends; living in bed and breakfast accommodation, and squatting.
How Many People are Homeless?
Every three years Irish local authorities assess the numbers of homeless people in their area, as part of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government's Assessment of Housing Need. The most recent national figures from this survey show that in 2005 there were 2,399 homeless people in need of housing. This figure includes only those on local authority housing lists who have declared themselves to be homeless.
In 2008, the Homeless Agency conducted a survey of homelessness in Dublin. It counted 2366 people homeless in the city, of whom 110 were sleeping rough.
The size of the homeless population depends on how homelessness is defined. Many organisations working with homeless people consider official statistics to be inaccurate because of the way homelessness statistics are collected. Official statistics do not count certain people, eg people using emergency accommodation or other services. People who are homeless may move from place to place and this can also make it difficult to get an accurate count of the homeless population.
Homelessness and Poverty
Poverty is an underlying cause of homelessness. Other factors, many of which are inter-related, also cause homelessness. These include: poor educational achievement, poor quality jobs or unemployment, high cost of buying or renting a home, difficult relationships at home, leaving institutional care, inadequate community support services, ill-health - including mental health - physical, sexual and mental abuse, disability, drugs and alcohol misuse, crime, and leaving prison. People sleeping rough, living on the streets or in shelters may experience absolute poverty. This means they are living without proper shelter, food, clothing or medical care. Often, people who are homeless have little or no support from family and friends.
There is an insufficient supply of appropriate and affordable homes for people in poverty and people who are homeless. People who experience poverty may live in poor quality private rented housing, have rent arrears, be under eviction proceedings or have no security of tenure. Housing costs such as high rents increase the poverty risk of people living in private rented houses or flats/apartments.
Who are the Homeless?
The majority of homeless people are single adults - the Homeless Agency's 2008 survey found that in Dublin alone there were 1439 single homeless people - the majority of these were men, who tend to be homeless for longer periods than women.
The Homeless Agency's 2008 survey found that in Dublin there were 249 homeless families with children under 18 - 576 children in total. The majority of these families were in emergency bed & breakfast accommodation.
Getting out of Homelessness
A reduction in poverty, more good quality and affordable homes for people on low incomes and better community based support services for children and families can all contribute to reducing homelessness. Better supports to assist homeless people to move into good quality secure jobs is also important. The supply of appropriate and affordable homes is a critical solution to homelessness. In particular, there needs to be a better mix of housing options for people who are homeless. There needs to be more housing options for single adults (who are the majority group amongst homeless people) and other groups who are homeless. Rent levels, in the private sector and in the social housing sector also need to be affordable.
A number of national strategies are in place to reduce and prevent homelessness. These include the Integrated Strategy on Homelessness, the Youth Homelessness Strategy and the Homelessness Preventative Strategy. Local authorities also have Homeless Action Plans.
Our website: the Poverty in Ireland section has comprehensive information on poverty and social exclusion in Ireland.
Our publications: go to our online publications catalogue where you can search for publications by subject.
Our library: our library has an extensive collection of resources on housing and homelessness.
Other websites: go to our links page for listings of other sources of information on poverty and social exclusion.
Specialist organisations working in the area of housing and homelessness in Ireland include:
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