There’s No Limit on How Long Families Might Spend in Homeless Hostels and Hubs

Andrew Connors is starting to get worried, he says.

He has been homeless with his wife and five children for two years and eight months. But when he rings South Dublin County Council, staff tell him that it will be many more years before the family is housed, he says.

“Every time I ring the council, they tell me eight to 10 years and 12 years,” he says. “Some of them tell me 15 years.”

He isn’t sure if they are serious about the timeframe, he says, or if they’re trying to pressure him into leaving for another county.

He can’t imagine that a family could survive that long in homeless accommodation, especially a family of seven people living in one room.

Council workers tell him a rental, with the help of the Housing Assistance Payment, is the best way forward, but it’s really hard to find one of those, he says.

A mobile home would be a step up too, says Connors, if he could find somewhere that he was allowed to put one.

Long stays in homeless accommodation seriously harm children’s physical and mental health and development, according to research by the Office of the Ombudsman and Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

Connors’ family is one of 153 families in the Dublin region that have been in homeless hostels and hubs for more than two years, shows April data from DRHE.

The Housing Act 1988 should be amended “to place a limit on the amount of time that families and vulnerable individuals may spend in homeless emergency accommodation”, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Family and Child Homelessness recommended in November 2019.

But that hasn’t happened and – while figures from Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) suggest that the percentage of families waiting more than two years has fallen – some, like Connors, are long past that threshold, and have no idea how long it will be until they finally have a home.

Stuck in Homeless Accommodation

The Connors family are in a B&B on Gardiner Street in Dublin’s city centre, but the older children go to school in Tallaght. This puts a strain on Connors, and especially on his wife, he says.

His wife gets up very early to drive the children to school and then she drives back through city-centre traffic to spend some time with the younger ones, before driving back to collect the older ones again.

“There is no break at all,” he says. “It’s a full-time job.”

They spend a huge amount of time on the road and often miss meals in the hostel because of it, he says.

Seven people all living in one room is challenging too. “I’m nearly three years in it now and there is an awful, awful lot of pressure,” he says.

“If we were closer to Tallaght, we could come back and get a bite to eat and then go and collect the kids,” he says.

The impact of even short stays in emergency accommodation on children’s health and development has been well-documented.

Between October 2018 and January 2019, children in homeless hostels told the Children’s Ombudsman they felt trapped by a lack of space, and others said they wanted to run away.

“Hannah (aged 8), cried and told us that the Hub was “like a children’s jail”,” says the No Place Like Home report.

“She expressed extreme worry and fear for her younger brother Niall (aged 5) who had tried to run away from the Hub on several occasions,” it says.

Family hubs are supposed to be better than B&Bs, but Connors is not sure which type of accommodation he is in. “The council told me when they moved me it was supposed to be a hub, but I don’t think it’s a hub, I think it’s a hostel.”

The council told him there would be better facilities for the children, but there are fewer play facilities compared to the B&B he was in, he says, which had an outdoor play area.

“I don’t find it any better,” he says. “There is nothing at all for kids to do, there is no playground.”

Living in these conditions takes a toll on children.

In January 2019 the Temple Street Children’s University Hospital reported that 842 children who attended the hospital emergency department the previous year had no fixed address.

“Their presentations are varied and complex but in the majority they stem from the fact that these children are living in completely unsuitable, cramped and temporary accommodation,” says the Temple Street Children’s Hospital Report.

In the same year, the Mercy Law Resource Centre said that they had “observed vulnerable families being ‘stuck’ in emergency accommodation for prolonged periods, as they face particular challenges accessing private rented accommodation”.

It is a source of frustration to Connors that council staff repeatedly tell him to look for properties to rent with HAP, he says, when he knows that most landlords won’t accept him.

South Dublin County Council didn’t directly respond to a question as to whether staff are aware that Travellers face discrimination in trying to access private rented accommodation.

An Approximate Timeframe

South Dublin County Council didn’t respond to a query about how long it would take a family to be housed, who joined the list around the same time as they became homeless.

In May 2022, there were 6,429 households on the social housing list and 489 of those households were registered as homeless, says a spokesperson for South Dublin County Council.

In 2021, South Dublin County Council allocated 749 homes, and 170 of those went to households with homeless priority, she says.

At that rate, it would take around three years on average to clear those households registered as homeless, if nobody else joined, but each family’s circumstances are different.

Dublin City Council tells housing applicants their place on the housing list but South Dublin County Council doesn’t.

Connors knows he is on the priority list, which is shorter than the main list, but he has no idea how many others are ahead of him.

He joined the social housing list with South Dublin County Council around the same time he became homeless, he says, two years and eight months ago.

But many other families were already on the list before becoming homeless, so some of those that entered emergency accommodation after him can expect to be housed sooner.

“They allocate about a quarter of properties to homeless priority,” says People Before Profit Councillor Madeleine Johansson.

Homeless households can also apply for properties through choice-based lettings, she says.

For people who are not homeless the average wait is about 10 years for a home, she says, but she doesn’t think a homeless family would wait for anything like as long.

“If they continue to be in emergency accommodation they should be housed before that,” says Johansson.

In January 2022, there were 821 families in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region and 21 percent of them (173) had been homeless for more than two years, said DRHE’s monthly report. The report doesn’t breakdown how much longer than two years those families have been waiting.

“There has been a reduction in exits to all tenancy types but particularly to HAP,” says the January 2022 report.

“The DRHE will be undertaking research to examine duration and exits and, in particular, to examine if factors such as ineligibility for social housing, large family sizes or other factors are affecting families’ ability to exit homelessness,” it says.

The most recent report from DRHE, for April 2022, shows that 16 percent of homeless families, or 153 families, had been in emergency accommodation for more than two years.

The report says that that reduction reflects “a concerted effort to target families experiencing long term homelessness”.

Connors says he could relax a bit if he had any idea how long he will be waiting. “Tallaght council don’t tell you, I think they should tell you,” he says.

In the meantime, a hostel closer to the children’s school would make a massive difference, he says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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