Homeless crisis worse than official figures show: 290,000 adults now sleeping on sofas or staying with friends

Simon Communities say one in four of us knows someone who lacks a home

73pc said the situation was forced or unintended

Wayne O'Connor

As many as 290,000 people in Ireland are likely to be experiencing hidden homelessness, as friends or family are increasingly relied upon to provide accommodation for others.

One in four people knows someone who has experienced hidden homelessness in the past 12 months, Simon Communities Ireland research shows.

People affected by hidden homelessness are not counted in Government homeless figures

The charity said the findings meant about 290,000 adults have experienced hidden homelessness in the past 12 months – where people stay with family or friends, couch surf or live in unsuitable overcrowded accommodation.

People affected by hidden homelessness are not counted in Government homeless figures released every month so it is difficult to measure how many people are impacted.

Simon Communities Ireland head of policy Wayne Stanley said polling the charity conducted as part of its annual Simon Week, to increase awareness of the issue, suggested a huge number of people relied on others for accommodation.

“The one-in-four figure highlights the breadth of the crisis. So many of us know somebody in that situation,” he said.

“This poll suggests there are 290,000 adults affected. That is the shocking minimum scale of the depth of the crisis. It is massive, it is an extraordinarily high number.”

The poll findings show 26pc of people said they, a family member, friend or acquaintance had to stay temporarily with another household in the past 12 months because they did not have a regular address of their own.

The poll of 1,015 adults was carried out by Red C between July 22 and 27. Findings show 9pc of people had friends affected by hidden homelessness in the past 12 months.

Another 9pc of people said an acquaintance was affected, while 8pc said family members stayed with someone in the past year because they did not have an address of their own.

And 5pc of people said they had suffered hidden homelessness.

‘Greater ambition is needed to bring former homes back into use’

The poll shows young people and those from lower socio-economic groups are most likely to be affected by hidden homelessness.

Of the 259 people polled who were affected or knew someone else without a regular address, 73pc said the situation was forced or unintended.

Less than a quarter of people (24pc) said they had a clear leaving date.

Mr Stanley said this underlined an uncertainty in the lives of those impacted by the housing crisis.

He urged the Government to address the issue rapidly and he suggested greater urgency in bringing back more than 166,000 vacant homes into use would help.

“Over and above what the state is already doing with vacancy, we have called on them to do an additional 5,000 units per year. Our strategy is they would do that for 2023 and 2024.” Afterwards they could start looking at derelict properties, he said.

Simon Week starts tomorrow with a conference in Dublin.

Director of services for housing at Mayo County Council Tom Gilligan, the founder of VacantHomes.ie, will be one of the speakers.

Mr Gilligan said it was welcome to see vacancy as one of the pillars of the Government’s Housing For All plan but said greater ambition was needed to bring former homes back into use.

Initiatives such as the repair-and-lease scheme could be used to better effect, he said. That aims to bring 120 units back into use this year but Mr Gilligan would like to see a more ambitious target.

“There is also a target of 2,500 properties for CPO [compulsory purchase] and resale onto the private market — that is compared to 166,000 vacant properties around the country. We need to do more and engage more with owners,” he said.

‘When you know where vacant units are, and what condition they are in, you can do something about them'

Mr Gilligan said property owners also needed to take action. He acknowledged there would be issues around probate — the process by which a person’s assets are distributed after death – and questions over ownership in some cases, but not all.

“In the midst of a housing crisis, hoarding or holding on to vacant properties is wrong. It is immoral at this moment in time,” he said.

VacantHomes.ie has been notified of more than 7,000 empty and unused homes since 2018.

Munster and Leinster, where the greatest housing need is, each account for 40pc of these but Mr Gilligan feels more information is needed to enable authorities to target vacant homes and get them into use efficiently. There is no national database of vacant units.

Ali Harvey from the Heritage Council is the founding coordinator of the Collaborative Town Centre Health Check (CTCHC) programme.

She said this could be used to generate data to help tackle high vacancy rates around the country as her reports map and measure vacancy.

It has conducted studies in 15 towns already and wants to research 50 other towns.

She said a national building stock management programme like those in many European countries would help “district renovation”.

“When you know where vacant units are, and what condition they are in, you can do something about them,” Ms Harvey said.

“The Government needs to support the CTCHC programme. It is in the Programme for Government but we don’t have a team to do the work.

“We know young people want to live in these towns and cities because we engage and work with them as part of the programme.”

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