Homelessness in the face of Covid-19

Although Covid-19 has understandably dominated the news-cycle in the past months, there remain other challenges that will most likely move back into focus once the pandemic has eased off. In the coming months, we will look into topics like the climate crisis and housing in Ireland and we will try to find out if and how they have been impacted by Covid-19. We want to start this series with the topic of homelessness in Ireland, a topic which is intrinsically tied to the wider topic of housing, but which deserves separate attention, especially now that we are again in full lockdown and considering the cold snap across the country in the last two weeks.

In general, homelessness has become an ever-growing problem in the last years. Between 2014 and 2018, there was a 203% increase in homelessness in Ireland, one of the highest rates within the EU in the decade up to 2018.

With regards to Covid-19 and its impact on homelessness, there are at least two aspects that come to mind: health and financials.

From a health perspective, it is important that the weakest members of society are being looked after. Safetynet Primary Care is an HSE funded charity that offers Covid-19 testing for people experiencing homelessness. However, it is important to highlight that, as with many other support offerings, not every person experiencing homelessness will avail of them.

On the financial side of things many individuals and families have found themselves in a previously unknown and financially critical situation. It is interesting to see then that homelessness numbers have actually decreased during the pandemic. As of November 2020, there was a 19% decrease in people accessing emergency accommodation compared to November 2019, with rough sleeper numbers in Galway and Dublin largely varying over time. Thanks to the government’s eviction ban during Covid-19, a lot of people will have been saved from losing their homes and facing homelessness. However, the question remains how the situation will develop once we are moving out of lockdown again, and if we will see a delayed increase in numbers.

The problem of homelessness has been discussed prominently in the last few years. And while spending on homelessness has increased over the last seven years, it is important to note that the main chunk went into emergency accommodation instead of prevention.

Already last year, Volt raised homelessness awareness when the EUR team launched a petition to the European Parliament. Their key proposals to fight homelessness across the EU are based on the Housing First program with a strong focus on finding homes for people, connecting homeless people with available resources, and fighting the causes of homelessness.

In its latest report on homelessness across all member states, the EU compiled a set of recommendations for Ireland starting with a need for better and more accurate data, analysis and monitoring of homelessness. The EU also advises a stronger focus on prevention, including a need to focus on the private-rented sector and to exert much stronger rent control and tenant rights. Finally, the EU proposes that the supply of public/social housing needs to be increased.

Next month we will have a look at the Irish housing situation, and we will present ideas from across Europe that we in Ireland could learn from.