The Census Undercounts the Number of People Who Are Homeless

Not everyone who is homeless will be counted as such when the census takes place next year, if the count is done as it has been.

Figures compiled from homeless charities’ websites suggest that there are spaces for around 250 single people in long-term hostel accommodation run by these charities, in Dublin.

However, none of the people living in these would have been included in the 2016 census figures on homelessness, or in the statistics on homelessness published by the Department of Housing each month.

At issue is a tangle of bureaucratic jargon.

The people living in these charity-run long-term hostels aren’t living in what’s technically termed “emergency accommodation”. And it’s only people who are, who are counted as “homeless” in the census and by the Department of Housing.

Instead, they’re counted as living in “long-term supported accommodation”, and the number of people in that situation nationwide grew from 922 in 2011 to 1,772 on census night 2016, according to data from the Central Statistics Office.

Because this group of people has been moved out of the category of homeless and into this other category, it looks like there are fewer homeless people than there actually are.

“False counting is minimising the problem of homelessness,” says Louisa Santoro, the CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a homeless drop-in centre.

All Lumped Together

What the census and the department call long-term supported accommodation is “for persons who have found themselves homeless and who have specialised health, care and social support needs”, said a spokesperson for the Department of Housing.

The term “applies to both permanent and semi-permanent” accommodation, says a spokesperson for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).

Most residents “have many complex needs which can range from mental health issues, substance misuse, physical disabilities, long term homelessness amongst many more”, said the spokesperson for the DRHE.

While there, they get 24-hour support. They can choose to stay, or decide to move on to social housing, she says.

Some long-term accommodation is apartments, and as long as people living there have permanent tenancies then that is their home, says anti-homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry.

However, some of this accommodation is homeless hostels, and “if they are in a hostel they are homeless”, he says.

Most people living in long-term hostels would love to get a home of their own, he says.

All people who are homeless should be counted as such, says Fr McVerry, including people who are sofa surfing, or living in overcrowded situations. “Unless we have a good grasp of the extent of the problem it’s hard to fix it.”

People living in long-term hostels may have more stability than those in emergency shelters, but they face a lot of the same problems, he says.

They cannot usually have overnight visitors, including family, McVerry says. “One of the main complaints I get from male homeless people is their access to their children is very limited. They can’t have them staying at weekends.”

Santoro, of the Mendicity Institution, says people living in hostels don’t have the same rights and privacy as people living in their own homes. “Can they have visitors? Can they have a party?”

Not Homeless, Not Housed

Charities’ websites suggest a lot of diversity within long-term accommodation. (Which are called long-term accommodation is captured in Department of Housing reports.)

Some are supported housing including two projects run by the Simon Community, four by Sophia Housing, and two by Focus Ireland.

But many are hostels, including Sundial House, a long-term homeless hostel with 30 en-suite rooms.

The Simon Community has three long-term hostels: Oak House (30), Riversdale House (21) and Chester House (22) and an emergency shelter at Maple House (34) also has some long-term accommodation spaces.

There is a homeless hostel for former defence services personnel at Brú na Bhfiann (30) which is classed as long-term accommodation.

The Salvation Army hostel York House has 80 beds and most of those are long-term homeless, says its website, “and who have mental health and addiction issues that prevent them from living independently”.

The Granby Centre, also run by the Salvation Army, is a mixture of apartments and rooms.

Despite the fact that some of these are hostels and some are homes, the CSO doesn’t count any of the people staying in long-term accommodation as homeless, following an agreement with its homeless liaison group, says a CSO spokesperson.

“The rationale behind this decision was that although these long-term residents may require a certain level of support, they are for the most part considered tenants (although some have license arrangements) and therefore should not be included in the homeless population count,” she says.

Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland, says that the problem is that what should be two distinct categories of accommodation, housing and homeless hostels, have been classed together as long-term accommodation.

“The distinguishing feature between homelessness and non-homelessness is a tenancy agreement,” he says.

Around 10 years ago, homeless charities came to an arrangement with the CSO that people living in supported housing projects with permanent tenancies shouldn’t be counted as homeless, he says.

Since then though, it appears that a number of communal-living hostel facilities have been reclassified as long-term accommodation, he says.

“The crucial distinction we agreed was that the person should be living in a place that would broadly be recognised as a home in other circumstances and have a Part 4 lease,” he says.

A person who is housed doesn’t just have a kitchen and a living space and a key to the door, he says. “You need to be able to close your door, to your apartment,” says Allen. “You are in control of it.”

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