It is shocking that there is now a record number of nearly 4,000 children homeless and the problem is getting worse. One child becomes homeless every four hours in Ireland. Focus Ireland is working every day to support these children and their families while they are homeless to lessen the damage done by not having a home.
This work is invaluable and helps so many but it is not enough. The Government must do more to end this crisis as these children are being robbed of their childhoods.
A key value of Focus Ireland is empowerment and the charity has worked for many years now to ensure the voice of the child is central to highlighting the injustice of homelessness in our society.
Focus Ireland was delighted to see the publication of the excellent new report by the Ombudsman for Children, ‘No Place Like Home’, which gave children who are homeless a vital chance to have their voices heard.
The report combined a careful review of the legal and policy development of Family Hubs with a close attention paid to the voices of the children who have to live there. The result is a damming indictment of this Government’s primary response to family homelessness. Focus Ireland hope that one day we will look back at the publication of this report as a turning point in Government policy.
When you read of the difficult lives which the children living in Family Homeless Hubs are experiencing, it is important to remember there are also many families living in worse conditions – up to 600 of the 1,700 families that are officially homeless are accommodated in hubs while the remainder are in hotel rooms and lodging houses, which are universally recognised as even less appropriate. Furthermore there over 400 families living in hotel rooms that do not even have a case manager to help them deal with the challenges they face and assist them in moving into a new home.
Many families who face homelessness in hubs or hotels have no space to cook and find the lack of privacy difficult to accept. This can add to the shame and stress that many families suffer from being trapped in this situation. One child who was interviewed for the report said: “I don’t like to tell my friends that I live in a hotel because they might make fun of me. I don’t like the room because it is for three people and I don’t like the food.”
The report also paints a picture of the hard work and commitment of the organisations and staff running the hubs but also conveys that hubs have emerged with no underlying policy objective, no standards and no long-term plan. These findings echo Focus Ireland’s long-term reasons for its opposition to the use of family hubs.
Focus Ireland has always said that the solution to homelessness is providing more homes not more emergency accommodation. The charity has repeatedly maintained that a major shift in government policy is required to end this crisis. Focus Ireland supports families to leave homelessness every day, but without an effective national policy this problem will not be solved.
Focus Ireland fully supports the recommendations in the Ombudsman for Children report and renews its own call for a coherent cross-department strategy to tackle family homelessness. In the absence of a dedicated family homeless strategy, the interests of children will be neglected. At present we are repeating the dreadful mistakes of the past – leaving children to grow up in institutions and jeopardising their futures. As a society we should not have to wait for 50 years for an enquiry about what the decisions, we all know what is happening now and an effective policy must be put in place to deal with it.
What is the solution?
As Focus Ireland has repeatedly stated, the only solution for these families who are homeless is the provision of secure homes. Permanent social housing offers a clear path towards a secure home. At a local and national Government level, a review of the allocation of housing stock must be made and more ambitious targets need to be set.
Local authorities also need to issue guidelines to staff about how to respond to the very specific issues faced by families who are homeless. A framework to keep children safe and support families out of homelessness must be introduced urgently to prevent children and parents experiencing additional trauma during an extremely difficult time. Local authorities are improving their services but more needs to be done.
How Focus Ireland supports children and families who are homeless
The work of Focus Ireland’s Family Team has expanded in recent years to help respond to the growing numbers of families becoming homeless. It was a great achievement to help 400 families out of homelessness and into a home last year. This is really life-changing as all these families and children now have a place to call home and can move on in life.
Focus Ireland has recently added extra impetus to our work to prevent youth homelessness. Teenagers can become homeless because they fall out with their families and this can often lead to long term homelessness which seriously damages their adult life. In response to this problem we provide a ‘family mediation service’, in collaboration with Tusla which has resulted in a number of young people reconciling with their family and moving back home.
Additionally our Focus Ireland Coffee Shop helps many families and individuals who are homeless – open every day, this service provides quality, affordable meals in a safe and warm environment.
Ultimately we believe homelessness is wrong. Wrong because it is a failure of society that creates victims out of ordinary people and robs them of their potential. Wrong because it can be prevented and solved but is allowed to continue, thereby undermining our society
Focus Ireland believes the long-term response to homelessness is the provision of homes and fixing our failing housing system. A new vision for housing is imperative but in the meantime, we need to do better for all those forced into homelessness.